Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Return of Cascadia Planet

In December 1994, back in the early days of the World Wide Web, a website named Cascadia Planet went live.  It focused on local and regional solutions to global sustainability challenges.

I was editor of the site, coming from a 1980s-90s movement background in Northwest ancient forest preservation and sustainable cities.  Then based in Portland, Oregon, I had written a Green City column for years and helped lead a community stakeholder process that generated a Green City vision for the Portland region in 1991. 

Many of those people who participated in that stakeholder process went on to make the vision happen.  Portland has since become known as a national sustainability leader. In 1993 it became the first city with a climate action plan, since successfully reducing carbon emissions per city resident.  The book, How Green Is Your City?,  gave Portland the #1 rating.   (My current city, Seattle, ranks #3.)

I came to Cascadia Planet with that experience in mind.  Places and regions could make solid contributions to global challenges such as climate change.  We didn’t have to wait for national governments to act. 

From 1991 on I was aware of another group that had the same vision, Atmosphere Alliance out of Olympia, Washington.  The group put out a publication called No Sweat News, a digest of climate and clean energy news from around the world.  In the first year of Cascadia Planet, a new edition announced a refined mission, to make the Pacific Northwest a global warming solutions leader.  On my page.  I called group founder Rhys Roth and offered a web presence.  Rhys took me up on my offer.

Cascadia Planet experienced its own dot.bomb crash several years in advance of the rest of the world.  We had trouble assembling a business model, so we let the site go inactive in 1997.

Meanwhile I continued to collaborate with Rhys on a series of climate and energy projects that led to the formation of a group called Climate Solutions in 1998.  It was a merger of Atmosphere Alliance and a storefront community education project called Energy Outreach Center, led by Paul Horton.  Climate Solutions took up the regional mission, with ripple effects around the nation and world including: 
     California’s first-in-the-US economy-wide carbon cap

The US Conference of Mayors climate commitment which has spurred action from New York and Chicago down to small communities

The first-ever Energy Title of the US Farm Bill which has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to farm-based clean energy projects all over the country

Initiatives for genuinely sustainable biofuels that have now spurred stakeholder-based roadmapping processes on several continents

Advanced efforts to deploy carbon-cutting smart electric power grids in the Northwest and elsewhere

Continuing work that links the West Coast states and British Columbia to lead on climate even as national governments are gridlocked.

            Of course, lots of other people have their fingerprints on these great accomplishments.  But in many cases Climate Solutions provided the vital link.  The “It’s a Wonderful Life” story of what the world would have looked like without the group would, I believe, be one in which much climate action of national and global significance would not have taken place.

The past 15 years of Climate Solutions totally validated the original premise of Cascadia Planet, not to mention Atmosphere Alliance.  Actions in local and regional places make a big difference, no matter how stuck national governments are. 

After 15 years I am returning to work as a full-time writer, my occupation when I helped found the group.  I came to the group with a theory of local and regional change, with some practice at the local level in Portland.   The past 15 years have provided a magnificent opportunity to put theory into practice at the Northwest regional scale.  Now it is time to sit down at my writer’s desk and share what I have learned. 

One way I will do this is with this revived Cascadia Planet site.  I will relate my insights on climate change and solutions, and on the vital role of cities and regions in meeting what is clearly an emergent global sustainability crisis.  I will review books new and old that have something to say about this. 

And I will talk about what it means to be an American, a citizen of the country that invented this unsustainable world and which still has so much to say about whether we can put it on a sustainable basis.  There are different ways to organize our national life that enhance the capacity of cities, states and regions to address sustainability challenges.  There are also far more productive ways to relate to the world.  I will share some ideas and proposals in this regard.

So welcome back to Cascadia Planet!  I hope you will participate and share your insights with me.  We can address the most global of challenges in the places where we live, and make a great world for ourselves and our children.  The power is within our hands.