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World's 5th Largest Economy Takes on Climate Change

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It's rare to be in the midst of an experience and realize that that very moment is history in the making. I just experienced such a moment.

I was a participant at a gathering in San Francisco where the Governors of California, Oregon, Washington and the Premier of British Columbia made a commitment to work as a region to combat global climate change. With passion and courage these four leaders boldly went where very few politicians have been willing to go.

By signing the Pacific Coast Action Plan On Climate and Energy, the four jurisdictions agreed to an ambitious agenda including putting a price on carbon in Washington and Oregon that will complement B.C.'s carbon tax and California's cap and trade programs. In effect this would establish a carbon market in the world's fifth largest economy.

The standing room only crowd consisted largely of business representatives. B.C. Minister of the Environment Mary Polak, said, "Leadership in climate action is good for your economy." She noted that due to the B.C. carbon tax the province's economy and population has grown while their fossil fuel consumption has dropped. Steve Clem, of Skansa, one of the world's largest construction companies, said they were in support of this action plan on climate and energy because it was good for their business, "We are growing as a company because of sustainable building practices not despite it."

Another unprecedented occurrence on a day filled with them was the participation by representatives of the West Coast's multi-million dollar shellfish industry. Their livelihoods are in grave danger as a result of carbon emissions. Oceans act like a massive sponge absorbing airborne carbon. This is changing the chemistry of the oceans, causing them to become more acidic. In fact ocean acidity has risen 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution. Due to its unique system of currents and upwelling events the Pacific Northwest is being impacted harder and sooner than any other place on the globe. Acidity levels in some places are already so high that oyster larvae cannot survive. Some shellfish growers have left the region; others have installed expensive monitoring equipment and shut down operations when ocean acidity is dangerously high.

Coupled with discussion of the compelling economic opportunities was a strong sense of urgency and moral imperative. Washington Governor Jay Inslee said, "We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and the last to be able to do anything about it." Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber stated that climate change was the greatest challenge we will face in the decades to come.

The West Coast region is not waiting for the federal government to take action. As Congress remains gridlocked and climate deniers wield bizarre, scientifically-baseless power in DC, West Coast leadership is stepping up to the most pressing global issue facing humanity.

As we headed back to Oregon our plane passed snow-covered Mt. Shasta glistening in the sun. I realized this was what was at stake, at the heart of the remarkable step the governors and premier had just taken. If we want our children's children to be able to experience awe at the beauty of a magnificent snow-covered mountain we must act.

It reminded me of the Wallace Stegner quote Governor Kitzhaber had used to close his speech:

"One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery."

I am a bit more hopeful today that might actually create such a society.