Portland's Emissions Omission


In early July, Portland, Oregon, was getting mega-props in the media for reducing its carbon emissions below 1990 levels–the target for reduction set by the Kyoto Protocol–while booming economically. As the NY Times' Nicholas Kristof bloviated:

Officials in Portland insist that the campaign to cut emissions has entailed no significant economic price, and on the contrary has brought the city huge benefits: less tax money spent on energy, more convenient transportation, a greener city and expertise in energy efficiency that is helping local businesses win contracts worldwide….

Portland's experience is so crucial. It confirms the suggestions of some economists that we can take initial steps against global warming without economic disruptions. Then in a decade or two, we can decide whether to proceed with other, costlier steps….

Perhaps eventually we will face hard trade-offs. But for now Portland shows we can help our planet without "wrecking" our economy–indeed, at no significant cost at all.

Whole account here.

Tastes great and less filling? What's not to like? Well, this for starters:

In response to data requests from the Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank, the [Office of Sustainable Development] admitted that a math error resulted in a 2004 carbon dioxide calculation that was 74,561 tons too low. The re-stated total puts Multnomah County above the 1990 levels by more than 68,000 tons.

What's more, Cascade's prez, John Charles, argues that, beyond bad math, there are more basic methodological flaws that lead to an undercounting of transportation-related emissions. "Portland's claim of painlessly reducing carbon dioxide has been repeated over and over by journalists, bloggers, and even some scientists for the past month, without any attempt to verify the accuracy of the OSD's report," he writes. "In fact, actual carbon emissions have been well above the level claimed by Portland, and any regulatory program imposed by the government to lower emissions to pre-1990 levels is going to be costly to consumers, something elected officials apparently don't understand."

Despite acknowledging the flawed data, the OSD has kept the report up at its Web site. No word on when Kristof might revisit the topic.

For the Cascade press release, go here. For its analysis of the OSD report, go here. For the original OSD report, go here.