Columbia Student Advises Community on How to Cut Greenhouse Gases


by Jessie Stensland

Eun Soo Lim, a student in Columbia's Climate and Society master's program, is advising Oak Harbor, WA, on how to cut greenhouse gases.

Global warming is a hot issue these days.

Former Vice President Al Gore is getting rave reviews for his movie about climate change. President George Bush finally admitted last year that human activity “may” be causing global warming.

While the federal government has been resistant toward taking substantial steps to curb the problem, many individuals and communities across the nation are making efforts large and small to be part of the solution.

The city of Oak Harbor, WA is one of them.

City leaders are participating in an innovative climate protection effort this summer with the help of Eun Soo Lim, a Columbia University graduate student. She’s working to quantify the city’s contribution of greenhouse gases.

Afterward, she’ll present an action plan to the City Council with practical ways the city government and the community at large can cut fuel and electricity consumption.

“There are everyday, little things that can add up,” Lim said. Using a bicycle whenever possible, for example, is a great way to cut fuel consumption, with added benefit of exercise.

The City Council passed a resolution at their last meeting to participate in the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, a voluntary program to combat global warming. It’s sponsored by a group of local governments with a really long name, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives — Local Government for Sustainability, along with the Northwest Clean Air Agency.

The resolution itself is a miniature lesson on global warming.

“Scientific consensus has developed that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere have a profound effect on the Earth’s climate...” it states. “In 2006 the U.S. National Climatic Data Center confirmed clear evidence of human influence on climate due to changes in greenhouse gases.”

Many communities in Washington are taking part in the program. Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said her town and Langley are sharing a graduate student, Mariah VanZerr. She’s giving an update on the project and a PowerPoint presentation, titled “Practical Solutions to Global Warming,” at the Town Council meeting at 6:30, next Tuesday, Aug. 8.

Many people feel that part of the solution is to change people’s everyday habits.

“The idea is for the city to take the lead in educating the community to take steps to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Oak Harbor interim City Supervisor Cathy Rosen. “We want to be a good steward and set a good example.”

In fact, Rosen said the city has been trying to become “greener” for years. There’s the recycling program, the new playground made from recycled materials and two new city-owned Ford Escape hybrids.

The city was awarded a grant for diesel retrofits on garbage trucks, which will dramatically reduce their greenhouse emissions. Sandra Place, the city’s equipment and purchasing coordinator, researched and wrote the grant applications.

While global warming might not seem like a terrible thing for those who live on temperate Whidbey Island, climate experts warn that it will have profound and unpredictable impacts on the Pacific Northwest.

A report by the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group warns that planning should begin now to deal with global warming impacts on snowpack, salmon, hydroelectricity, agriculture and the ski industry.

Lim points out that even a small increase in average yearly temperatures will melt huge amounts of the snowpack in the mountains, which is the state’s natural water reservoir. Snowpack was been declining in the West over the last 40 years as temperatures increase. Less snow in the mountains will impact the timing and volume of stream flow.

That’s an important consideration for Oak Harbor since the city depends on water piped in from the Skagit River.

“Everything is connected to global warming,” Lim said. “Human health, the economy, wildlife, agriculture — our everyday life. It’s really important not to ignore this.”

Lim said she is working for “10 intense weeks” in the city public works department. She’s currently working with Puget Sound Energy, Cascade Natural Gas and Amerigas, as well as the Washington State Department of Transportation and Island Transit.

She’ll use data from the agencies and companies to develop a profile of energy consumption for both the city government.

Once the profile is completed, she’ll create a targeted action plan with ways in which the city and community can cut consumption, with specific goals for the future.

“Most of the program will require the city spending money in the beginning,” she said, “but the long-term savings will be a huge benefit.”

Reprinted with permission from