Opinion

Getting green in Federal Way, part 1

By Chris Carrel, Thinking Locally

Green is the color for 2008.

Fueled in part by deepening public concern over global warming, the environment is creeping back toward the top of the list of public concerns.

Many cities, particularly in nature-loving Pugetopolis, are adopting comprehensive sustainability policies, thinking globally (or at least regionally) and acting locally.

The big green issue on everyone’s mind right now is global warming. According to a recent survey of King County residents, 79 percent are concerned about global warming and believe governments need to begin addressing the problem.

A number of citizens have argued that Federal Way should join the Cool Cities campaign. Seattle, Tacoma, Auburn and Pacific are among 31 Washington Cities that have already signed the U.S. Climate Protection Agreement, making them “cool cities.” Cool cities strive to meet or exceed carbon emission reductions in their communities and to urge state and federal governments to take action on global warming.

Given the importance of a stable climate to society and the global economy, there is no question that Federal Way — like any other city — will be affected by global warming. The question is whether the city should take measures to reduce its contribution to the problem.

The city council has already taken a smal first step, investing in four hybrid cars for the city fleet. During 2008, the city will assess global warming and other environmental priorities with an eye toward action in 2009.

Let’s deal with the “why” first. There are compelling fiscal, ethical and strategic reasons for a city policy on global warming. First, the ethical. Our best scientific knowledge tells us that global warming, even under the most optimistic scenarios, will be an unprecedented environmental, economic and health burden placed on future generations.

We have an obligation to try to reduce and mitigate that burden for our children and grandchildren. Expressing that through the actions of our governments, as well as through personally meaningful individual action, is a legitimate and appropriate response.

Ethics aside, it’s just plain smart to adopt a climate-friendly look at the local level. Many corporations already realize that there are significant savings to be earned from energy efficiency, and are revamping operations accordingly. They also know that global warming regulations are coming that will require more climate-friendly operations and are getting ahead of the curve.

City governments will not be immune to these larger forces. It’s in the taxpayers’ interest for the city to become more climate-friendly.

An even bigger question, though, is just how deeply Federal Way should invest itself in global warming. There are a range of actions the city could take under the banner of a global warming effort. Choosing amongst those actions will be the hard part.

In government, as in other areas of life, choosing one thing comes at the expense of another. Prioritizing environmental action will be highly important. There are huge local environmental issues that, should they go wanting, will have a much more immediate impact on Federal Way-ers than global warming. Two such issues include urban forest health and low-impact development.

Whatever is done to address global warming here, should make sense for other reasons as well (energy efficiency is a prime example), and not come at the expense of action on priority local environmental needs.

City Hall would do itself a big favor by seeking out actions that have spinoff benefits, particularly ones that spur the local economy. The Symphony development is a prime example, as land use has a huge impact on carbon emissions. Though not billed as a global warming action, the effort to increase downtown density, symbolized by the Symphony development, will reduce vehicle trips and carbon emissions.

As the city council and staff examine city environmental priorities, they’ll need to keep local needs at the top of the list. We may want to think globally and act locally, as the slogan goes, but we also don’t want to lose sight of just plain thinking locally.

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos. Contact: chinook@hylebos.org or (253) 874-2005.

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