Space needle_Flickr_Great BeyondEarlier this year the Seattle City Council made achieving “carbon neutrality” one of its top goals. Now they have to figure out how to deliver on it.

Tonight the council’s hosting a carbon neutrality community forumto get ideas about how to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Seattle is the only Northwest city that I’m aware of having made carbon neutrality one of its prime priorities, though Portland has a plan for dramatically cutting its climate pollution and Vancouver, BC, already has lower per capita greenhouse gas emissions than the Emerald City. And Portland State University has signed on to become carbon neutral by 2040, and a group of Oregon wineries are also aiming for neutrality.

But what does the milquetoast-sounding phrase “carbon neutral” really mean? It’s actually a super bold idea. It means cutting net emissions of climate-warming gases to zero both through actual reductions in the amount of gasoline and diesel we burn in our cars and oil and gas consumed to heat our homes and businesses, as well as by taking steps to remove carbon from the atmosphere by planting and protecting CO2-absorbing trees and by supporting projects that shrink emissions. 

Why Seattle? Local supporters give loads of reasons, though the most compelling answer I’ve heard came from Alex Steffen, executive director of Worldchanging, at a brown-bag meeting on the topic that was hosted by the city back in April. His response:

“There is absolutely no sacrifice to doing this.”

How can cutting dirty energy use and saving trees and plants lead to no sacrifice? Steffen explained. 

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  • Getting to carbon neutral, he said, requires us to build more compact, walkable cities. That leads to healthier people and stronger, more connected communities. It will mean building more energy-efficient houses and doing retrofits to save energy, which in turn saves people money. It also requires businesses and governments to be less dependent on fossil fuels and their volatile prices, preparing our region to lead in the future.

    And Steffen and others tout the potential for great economic gains if Seattle and the Northwest invest in businesses and workers that are focused on clean, green energy. It’s the sector that will increasingly be in global demand. 

    “This is an economic growth strategy,” said Washington Congressman Jay Inslee at the same brown bag lunch.

    Seattle’s emissions admittedly are small in a global perspective, but the city has a chance to be pioneers and show others how to make these cuts, proponents of the plan said.

    These high-minded ideas are all well and good, but what does this actually look like on the ground? It turns out the city is already moving toward carbon neutrality in a number of areas.

    Seattle City Light already claims to be carbon neutral thanks to its use of non-polluting hydropower and investments in cutting greenhouse gases. Seattle is buying electric vehicles for city departments and is developing plans to support alternative modes of transit such as bike riding. There are programs to expand composting and recycling, which curbs the load of trash headed to landfills and saves natural resources. And millions of dollars are already being invested in energy retrofits.

    The city has two pages focused on carbon neutrality and goals and policies associated with achieving it (links here and here).


    Attend the carbon neutrality forum:

    WHEN: Tonight (Sept. 14), 6 to 8:30 p.m.

    WHERE: Bertha Knight Landes Room, Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave.


    Space Needle photo from Flickr user Great Beyond used under the Creative Commons license.