Only You Can Prevent Climate Change

April 21, 2019
Speaking at the Youth Climate Rally in Market Square last month brought home what the organizers already knew; we are the last generation that can do something meaningful against climate change. It may not be politically correct to say and even offend some sensibilities, but adhering to the Paris Agreement, adopting a moderate Carbon Fee & Dividend framework, or even enacting the aspirational Green New Deal may not prevent the worst climate change predictions if we do not change our everyday behaviors. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, China contributed twenty-eight percent of the world's carbon emissions in 2015 compared to the United States' fifteen percent. However, as Americans we each contributed 15.53 metric tons per person compared to China's 6.59 metric tons per capita meaning our consumption culture must change to help this next generation. This response is to several recent opinion pieces lambasting my proposed Single-Use Disposables Ordinance without accepting any personal responsibility.

In response to the attorney who has argued for four years that the City Council lacks the authority to ban the distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags and require ten cents be charged for each paper shopping bag distributed: Legal opinions differ. The ordinances' legality is based on New Hampshire's Solid Waste Statute that prioritizes such source reduction over landfilling and clarifying legislation is currently making its way through the State House. Meanwhile, a statewide ban of the ubiquitous plastic bags should go to the Governor for signature by June 22 that will require stores to collect the same ten cents per paper bag because paper bags require significantly more energy to produce than plastic bags. These policies incentivize using totes that should be washed occasionally and reused more than 131 times to offset the additional energy required to produce them compared to plastic bags. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did meet with the Portsmouth resident that chairs the Surfrider Foundation New Hampshire to discuss my updated proposal and was later informed that the organization's national focus remains on the negative environmental impacts of post-production plastic and not my new composting component described below.

In response to the subject matter expert with more than forty years of experience in the waste management and recycling industry: We must adapt. Markets have caused recycling to cost more than landfilling, Shipyard Waste's business customers have already received notifications they will only recycle cardboard, and their waste management competitors will likely follow suit. The updated ordinance requires that single-use plastic containers, cups, and straws distributed be compostable and for businesses that distribute them to also offer customers onsite composting bins for the contents to be deposited at clearly defined Composting Facilities. Maine's regulations are referenced in my Composting Facility definition because all composting businesses operate out of neighboring states due to New Hampshire's outdated regulations and the closest curbside composting businesses are in Maine. Now, my end game is harnessing sustainable energy from and not composting our food waste, dairy waste, and Fats, Oils, & Grease (FOG) that contain 200-600 mL Methane/gram. Electricity can be created not just from our restaurant industry's organic waste, but also from a robust citywide residential curbside composting program, sludge from our wastewater treatment facilities, and feedstock from surrounding communities via the waste-to-energy Regional Anaerobic Digester that is slotted to be designed for Pease next year in our Capital Improvement Plan and is part of our Renewable Energy Committee's Final Report and Recommendations to get our entire community to Net Zero Energy.

In response to the City Councilor candidate that preaches moderation without offering specific proposals: Do I look moderate to you? Specific proposals and not moderation push progress. Despite the City Council taking no action on our original ordinance in 2015, that proposal got the Lafayette Market Basket to offer their cardboard boxes as plastic bag alternatives. I welcome actual suggested improvements like the medical facility suggestion I received to be included with the existing exemptions for soup kitchens, certain nonprofits, and customers on the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program that may not otherwise be able to afford ten cents per paper bag if they do not have totes. Despite my ordinance being well crafted, it can be exploited; but it would be irresponsible for a Portsmouth City Councilor to simply not respond to any problem just because businesses might take advantage of provisions designed to help them or because our ordinances cannot reach Newington's Walmart or Greenland's Target. I welcome opportunities to work with businesses and that is why I requested to do the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth's Public Policy Forum on Friday, April 26, from 8 a.m. - 9:30 a.m., at Strawbery Banke Museum's TYCO Visitors Center. I will be joined by representatives from Mr. Fox, Sustainable Seacoast, and the National Waste & Recycling Association who will speak to current composting, single-use plastic reduction, and recycling services. You want me to act in moderation; Well, who do you think you're talking to?

Given all my different initiatives, I have always found humor in being best known as the public face for Portsmouth's ban the bag movement given I have never actually been that passionate about them. Initially I just wanted to bring attention to the single-use aspect of our larger consumption culture that depends on our troops safeguarding cheap foreign oil reserves, but it has become very apparent over the past five years that our culture is not adjusting fast enough to respond to climate change. I do not expect everyone to downsize to studios or take significant pay cuts so they can bicycle to work, nor am I arguing that Portsmouth alone adopting my ordinance will have a meaningful impact on climate change, but we must start changing our daily lives for our response to climate change to be taken seriously.