Sustain Eugene: greenwash is sustain-a-bull

Guest Viewpoint

Weak Climate Law Aside, City Can Take Real Steps

By Mark Robinowitz
Aug. 15, 2014

The Eugene City Council’s newly adopted “climate recovery ordinance” has nice rhetoric, but needs specifics and better math to meet its stated goals.

The first section says city operations shall be “carbon neutral” by 2020 via “carbon offsets” if the city still burns fossil fuels. Carbon offsets involve paying an outside company to allegedly mitigate the impact of burning oil, coal or natural gas.

Carbon credits are a popular tactic of governments and corporations, but they are greenwashing — a false claim of environmentalism. No financial scheme can put fossil-derived carbon back into the ground.

I’ve used solar electric panels for more than two decades — they are great, but they do not sequester carbon derived from fossil fuel. Solar panels are efficient ways to use fossil fuels, not alternatives to them. They take energy to manufacture, move and install.

Carbon neutrality claims are profitable schemes for consulting companies who sell the sweet lie that giving them money makes polluters eco-friendly. Paying brokers to provide “carbon neutral” certificates might make politicians feel good, but cannot reduce the city’s pollution.

The city’s carbon-neutral goal also ignores proposed highway widenings and expansion of airport operations. Mayor Kitty Piercy and Councilor Alan Zelenka, the two primary promoters of this ordinance, are the city’s representatives to the Lane Council of Governments’ transportation committee, where they voted for more than a billion dollars in highway expansions in the Eugene-Springfield Regional Transportation Plan. The largest RTP project is the proposed widening of Beltline highway across the Willamette River between River Road and Delta Highway. This expansion is ultimately a state and federal decision, but the city is promoting it.

Most of Oregon’s petroleum supplies come from the trans-Alaska Pipeline, which peaked at 2 million barrels a day in 1988 and has declined by three-fourths. In 2013, the flow dropped another 2.5 percent and is slightly above the “low flow” level where it will be difficult to pump in the Arctic winter. Plans for oil trains into the region are likely our Plan B for the end of the Alaska pipeline, not serious proposals to export oil to Asia.

Other types of fossil fuel are also past their peaks. Coal combustion peaked in the United States in 1999, and conventional natural gas peaked in 1973. Now that we have burned the cheap, easy-to-extract oil, coal and natural gas, we are shifting to expensive, difficult-to-extract reserves. Perhaps the most notorious is the fracking boom for domestic oil and natural gas, which is expensive and requires tremendous energy inputs. Fracking, deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and tar sands extraction in Canada have delayed gasoline rationing. We are in the eye of the energy crisis hurricane, perhaps for a few more years.

Traffic levels in Lane County peaked in 2003, according to the state Department of Transportation. Oregon’s traffic peaked in 2002. Nationally, traffic levels peaked in 2007, the same year that domestic aviation peaked, electricity usage peaked and all energy usage peaked. These peaks happened because the cost of energy went up, and therefore their use went down.

We have also reached physical limits to energy extraction. It’s anyone’s guess what the cost — and availability — of oil will be in the 2030s, but it’s likely to be more expensive and scarce.

The ordinance states that city operations — and the public — should use half as much fossil energy in 2030 compared to 2010. This is a good goal, but one that will happen whether planned for or not. We will be lucky to be able to use half of our current consumption in 2030. Now that we are passing peak energy, we cannot increase our use of fossil fuels even if we want to. Peak oil production in the United States was in 1970, and has been in decline since. Global conventional oil production peaked a few years ago.

The ordinance requires planning to reduce carbon emissions to reach the goal of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the year 2100, when none of us are likely to be alive.

Humanity does not face the question of whether to use less fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases, since we have reached the limits to energy growth due to geological factors. How we use the remaining fossil fuels as they deplete determines how future generations will live after the fossil fuels are gone. Will we use the second half of the fossil fuels for bigger highways or better trains?

Here are a few suggestions for the city of Eugene to prepare for energy depletion and climate chaos:

Integrate peaked energy and climate change together in city planning, especially Envision Eugene and the Regional Transportation Plan.

Relocalize food production and protect nearby farmland from urban growth boundary expansions. Solar panels and wind farms cannot transport food across time zones and international borders.

Advocate for an end to clear-cutting on nearby industrial forestlands. Clear-cuts cause climate chaos, both from the carbon (and methane) releases from logging and the disruption of the hydrologic cycle from deforestation.

Mark Robinowitz of Eugene is author of “Peak Choice: Cooperation or Collapse.”

Baby Steps (on the cusp of collapse)

published in Lane County Land Watch

by Mark Robinowitz,

In March 2000, David Brower, one of the leaders of the environmental movement in the 20th century, made his final appearance at the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon. He concluded that after decades of environmental activism, the environmental movement had merely slowed down the rate that things got worse -- and this was not good enough for us to survive

Brower’s advice is not a popular perspective. More widespread is the notion that we should practice “baby steps,” small incremental efforts that one day may add up to an ecological shift toward sustainability. This idea sounds reasonable unless you consider how our society has largely ignored over a half century of warnings.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring focused on the threat of toxic chemicals which she called “biocides.” A couple of the most notorious poisons have been banned since then but most others are still widely used. The few successes for public health have been where pollution prevention has been mandated, not by requiring permits to pollute. Perhaps the most obvious example is the reduction of lead in the air, reduced by banning lead as an additive for gasoline.

Three decades ago, activists forced the Federal forests in Oregon to stop spraying herbicides from helicopters. This abuse continues on the corporate clearcuts (permitted by the State of Oregon) yet most environmental groups are merely calling for better regulation, not an end to this practice. Helicopter rotors blow the spray downwind for kilometers and therefore “buffer” zones are unenforceable and a distraction.

Oregon’s land use laws, enacted in the 1970s, are cited as a great accomplishment. But looking back at their implementation they were merely guides on how things should be made worse. Our strip malls, clearcuts, freeways, gravel mines, and other abuses are permitted by these laws. Perhaps without these rules it would have been even worse, but we are capable of better.

I have fought highway approvals for more than two decades out of concern for mitigating Peak Energy and Climate Change. When I was involved in trying to prevent a piece of the Outer Beltway around Washington, D.C., I had a federal regulatory official tell me that his job was not to prevent the highway, but to ensure it was built in the best way possible. That wasn’t his personal view, merely his legal requirement. Small shifts in the alignment slightly reduced the acreage of wetland destruction but meant nothing for the cumulative ecological damage.

Across the country, the places where grassroots environmentalism have been strongest regarding freeway fights have generally been in places where enclaves of liberal Democrats are surrounded by conservative Republicans. Bloomington, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky are good examples. In those places, environmentalists do not have the illusion the state governments are their allies. They haven’t won, but they have been clearer in their advocacy.

As resources deplete and the climate warms, we need to be honest in the scale of the crises and work for fundamental transformation, not toned down efforts that are politically acceptable to politicians.

If you were at the beach and someone said a tsunami was approaching while recommending taking baby steps away from the water, you could conclude that the alarm was false or if true, that the warner’s recommendation about the problem was insufficient. Environmentalists who warn about global disruption while recommending baby steps suffer from a similar disconnect.



Compromise is often necessary, but it ought not to originate with environmental leaders. Our role is to hold fast to what we believe is right, to fight for it, to find allies, and to adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or our friends to win, then let someone else propose the compromise, which we must then work hard to coax our way. We thus become a nucleus around which activists can build and function.
— David Brower, Earth Island Institute, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club

“A big criticism of Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth was that it lays out this really enormous problem that we have to deal with and then when it comes to the solutions section he talks about compact fluorescent light bulbs.
“The disconnect between the magnitude of the challenge and the triviality of the proposed solution is a contributing factor to people checking out and feeling that they have no input or no control - there's not a lot of point in them knocking themselves out to do anything about this enormous problem.”
-- “C-Realm” podcast,, hosted by “KMO,” 423 Away July 16, 2014

Grading on a Curve

Enviro ‘champs’ ignoring the biggest issues


On Nov. 27, EW’s Slant profiled the “Environmental Scorecard” of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. EW drew attention to “the relatively high scores racked up by state reps and senators in our part of the valley.” Unfortunately, OLCV was grading on a curve to make Democrats in Salem look better than they are.

One of the most important votes of the 2013 session, not included in OLCV’s scorecard, was to appropriate $450 million toward the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), a $3 billion to $4 billion dollar boondoggle that would widen I-5 to 16 lanes north of the bridge. The Oregon House voted 45-11 in favor and the Senate voted 18-11 in favor. Only two Democrats in the House and one in the Senate voted “no.”

EW highlighted Rep. John Lively’s 94 percent OLCV rating, but did not mention his vote for the CRC nor his previous promotion of bigger roads while working for ODOT.

OLCV’s website cites 10 state reps as environmental champions, but only one of those 10 voted against the CRC. Designating highway expansion supporters as “environmental leaders” suggests political partisanship has become more important than environmental protection.

The only legislator representing Lane County who was against CRC was Rep. Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, a Republican. Some Republicans expressed dislike of the token transit component. Republicans were freer than Democrats to oppose Gov. Kitzhaber’s campaign for CRC.

CRC is now bogged down in financial chaos since Washington state legislators did not appropriate anything for it. However, the project is legally approved and an Obama administration priority.


In November 2008, Gov. Kulongoski’s Transportation Vision Committee released a report that called for $18 billion in new and expanded state highways, including over $1 billion in Eugene and Springfield. 1000 Friends of Oregon, Oregon Environmental Council and Environment Oregon were part of this committee, but they were window dressing to show that all points of view were supposedly considered. If these groups had a minority report to dissent from the highway promotion, they kept it very quiet.

In 2013, ODOT started building two new highways: the Newberg Dundee Bypass (through farmland) and the Sunrise Freeway in Clackamas County. Both projects only have part of their funding, so ODOT is building segments and hoping for the rest of the money in the future. I attended public hearings for both of these bypasses and did not see any environmental groups at either event.

Also in 2013, ODOT approved a new freeway in Medford, the Route 62 bypass. I didn’t attend the hearing. The only environmental group that sent comments was Rogue Valley Audubon Society, which complained construction would harm birds.

Federal aid highways such as CRC have to plan for traffic two decades in the future, not current congestion. Our transportation plans ignore the fact that traffic levels peaked in Oregon in 2003 and Oregon’s main fuel source, the Alaska Pipeline, peaked in 1988 and has dropped three quarters since then. It’s anyone’s guess how much energy will be available for traffic in the 2030s, but it will be much less than the current flow, especially if the Alaska Pipeline closes due to “low flow.” Current levels are just above the minimum threshold needed for the pipeline to operate in the Arctic winter.

Here in Eugene from 1999 through 2007, I was the “road scholar” for a proposed lawsuit that prevented the West Eugene Porkway, a bypass of West 11th through the West Eugene Wetlands. WETLANDS vs. Federal Highway Administration was not filed because the feds withdrew the project and selected “no build.” Details are at

The lawsuit focused on legal precedents, including Section 4(f), which prohibits federal aid highways through parks. But it also would have tried to have set a new precedent combining the facts of peak oil and peak traffic as reasons the 20-year planning rule no longer justifies highway expansions.

Since then, I have looked for other freeway fights around the country that could use this legal strategy to create a precedent. A state-by-state list of plans for $1 trillion of highway expansions across the country is at

The most energetic environmental efforts against new roads are often in places where liberal Democrats are surrounded by conservative Republicans (Bloomington, Ind., and Louisville, Ky., are examples). The professional environmentalists in these places know the state government is not their ally (nor their funder).

While trains and transit could play important roles for post-peak transportation, recognizing we’re passing the limits to growth and relocalizing food production are probably the most important responses to peaked traffic and peaked energy.

About the Author
Mark Robinowitz of Eugene is author of “Peak Traffic and Transportation Triage: a Legal Strategy to Cancel Trillion Dollar Highway Plans and Prepare for Post Peak Travel,” at

• 1 Comment

peakchoicedotorg • 17 minutes ago

Sent to me from "a long time environmental activist and former OLCV board member" - I sent him this op-ed and this was his reply:

I hope they print it.

OLCV continues to disappoint me. I wrote them after the special session in which local control over genetic engineering was thrown under the bus and told them they should target on a Democrat architect of that compromise for defeat in the primary, just to show that environmentalists mean business. I received no reply. That they left off the CRC from their list of counted votes doesn't surprise me in the slightest. They are an arm of the Democratic party and deathly afraid of organized labor.



Eugene's energy plan fails to address coming oil shortage

Appeared in print: Monday, Sep 27, 2010 - Register Guard

On Sept. 15 [2010], the Eugene City Council adopted a Climate and Energy Action Plan intended to reduce greenhouse gas generation and energy consumption.

The plan has many good ideas that would make our community more resilient to energy disruptions, but it assumes we still have a choice between conservation and business as usual. After Peak Oil, our choice is different: We must choose whether we will try to mitigate the economic and social consequences of fossil fuel depletion.

The plan's goals include cutting Eugene's energy usage 50 percent by 2030. However, that goal will be reached whether we plan for it or not, because global oil production has peaked.

A 2009 U.S. Department of Energy report estimates world oil extraction will decline by half over the next two decades. We cannot burn fuel that does not exist.

The report states that energy prices are likely to go up, but fails to consider the full impact of the end of cheap oil. As oil production declines, even those with money may be unable to acquire these fuels with their accustomed ease.

Since 2007, the so-called recession and higher energy prices have reduced North American oil consumption by nearly 10 percent.

We are at global Peak Oil, meaning the world's oil fields are both half empty and half full. They are half empty, so we must recognize limits to endless growth on a finite planet and shift our plans to recognize physical reality. But the wells are also half full, so we have lots of energy remaining that could be used to mitigate the decline.

That choice will not be made as long as vague claims of sustainability substitute for the courage to admit the full scale of the crisis.

Nearly every drop of liquid fuel used in Oregon and Washington comes from the Alaska Pipeline via five refineries in Puget Sound. When the Pipeline shuts down due to "low flow" -- it takes a minimum flow to keep the oil from freezing in the Arctic winter -- what part of the world will give up some of their energy usage so Cascadia can power food deliveries?


In response to my complaints that Peak Oil was not mentioned in the city's draft plan, the final version added a mention that Peak doesn't only mean a decline of oil; it admitted that renewable energy cannot replace all of the fossil fuel we use. Fossil fuels are more energy dense than renewables.

In response to the final plan, I created an uncensored citizen's alternative, "Peak Choice for Eugene: Adding Peaked Oil and Other Limits to Growth to the City of Eugene Climate and Energy Action Plan." The full report is available at

A focus of the city's plan is the energy consumption of buildings, which rivals transportation as the main energy user (coal and natural gas for electricity and heating, not oil). Some green building practices are cheap and should be required for building permits. Proper solar orientation is a design issue not an additional expense, as solar electric panels are.

The Eugene Water & Electric Board is spending $85 million to relocate its maintenance yard to the west Eugene wetlands. That sum could have put solar hot water systems on more than 10,000 homes and businesses. If EWEB had chosen that path, we could have built a factory to make the panels and created living wage jobs to do the construction, electrical and plumbing work.

The plan refused to mention Eugene's biggest infrastructure plans during the rest of the oil era — the Regional Transportation Plan, which mandates widening Interstate 5, the Randy Papé Beltline, Highway 126 and other major roads.

The governor's Transportation Vision Committee estimated in 2008 these projects would cost about $1 billion. These expansions assume endless increases in traffic, even though Peak Oil caused Peak Traffic.

beltline bridge options

Oregon Department of Transportation is studying several options to widen Beltline highway.


Now that oil production is declining, we need transportation triage. There will not be enough resources to widen highways and improve bus and train service. We should fix broken bridges, not widen them, and expand bus and train service.

Lane Transit District managers ignored warnings that Peak Oil was imminent, and they got caught with budget shortfalls when oil prices went up. Then they cut service and raised fares despite increased ridership.

Reversing these cuts is a bigger priority than demolishing local businesses on West 11th Avenue for an overpriced express bus to Wal-Mart.

The most important energy issue is relocalizing food production, not the illusion that electric cars could replace existing vehicle fleets. Most of our food is brought from distant locations on trucks, freight trains, cargo ships and airplanes, which are not powered by solar panels and wind turbines.

There are many efforts in our region to relocalize agriculture that need the support of everyone who eats. If the city of Eugene wants to help local food, it could drop plans to double the cost of community garden plots to $120 from $60.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions is not the only reason to reduce the distance our food travels. We will need local food to ensure that everyone can eat as the world's cheap oil is replaced by expensive, difficult-to-get oil.

Mark Robinowitz is author of "Peak Choice for Eugene" at

Stop ALL Aerial Sprays

In the 1970s, some Oregon timber companies started spraying powerful herbicides from the air over their clearcuts. Rural downwinders led efforts to ban this abuse and stopped the sprays over federal forests in the 1980s, but were unsuccessful at ending this on corporate timberlands.


Lane County initiative for a ban

A Lane County initiative sponsored by Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Alliance would ban aerial sprays, not regulate them -

Downwinders do not consent to being sprayed. Allowing the state to designate supposedly acceptable buffers just perpetuates the abuse.


Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) graphic claiming "300 foot aerial buffer" protects salmon

NCAP says 300 foot buffers for helicopter herbicides protects salmon (and people)

We are constantly being told about "a permissible amount of radiation." Who permitted it? Who has any right to permit it?
­ Dr. Albert Schweitzer

"Thus, confronted by powerful corporate opposition, the environmental movement has split in two. The older national environmental organizations, in their Washington offices, have taken the soft path of negotiation, compromising with the corporations about how much pollution is acceptable ... The people living in the polluted communities have taken the hard path of confrontation ... The national organizations deal with the environmental disease by negotiating about the kind of 'Band-Aid' to apply to it; the community groups deal with the disease by trying to prevent it."
­ Barry Commoner, "Making Peace With the Planet"

Greenwashing Governors

Brown is the new green(wash)

by Mark Robinowitz - February 2015

The resignation of Governor John Kitzhaber reminds me of the toppling of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was ousted by her Conservative Party colleagues and replaced with someone who pushed the same policies but was less of a lightning rod.

Our new Governor, Brown, is the new green(wash).  As Secretary of State, she was on the State Lands Board with Kitzhaber where they voted to sell state forest lands to timber companies.

Corrupt greenwashing is a factor that led to Kitzhaber’s downfall.  Cylvia Hayes’ consulting for “green energy” was in reality promotion of greenwash, not ecology.  Kitzhaber called incinerators renewable energy, corporate clearcuts sustainable forestry, funded highway expansions, and praised NuScale nuclear power company in Corvallis. It’s Orwellian.

Hayes and Kitzhaber were good at sustain-a-bullsh!t and the environmental establishment endorsed Kitzhaber’s re-elections.

Greenwashing also describes the City of Eugene’s alleged response to environmental crises.  In 2014, they enacted a law requiring purchase of “carbon credits” while continuing to promote highway widening, overdevelopment and paving farmland.  Giving public funds to consultants cannot offset pollution.

Democrats in Salem have a bill about one of Oregon’s worst abuses - helicopter spraying of herbicides.  Unfortunately, this bill merely requires Oregon Department of Forestry, which approves corporate clearcutting and spraying, to write a regulation for better buffers even though helicopter rotors can blow this poison for miles.    Downwinder communities have tried to ban this since the 1970s.  These Democrats want better records kept about our poisoning, not to make it illegal.

"When politics enter into municipal government, nothing resulting therefrom in the way of crimes and infamies is then incredible. It actually enables one to accept and believe the impossible..."
-- Mark Twain, letter to Jules Hart, 1901-12-17

Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Tenth Edition
greenwash (n):
"Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing. Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash."

"Some people see things as they are, and ask, 'Why?'
Others dream things that never were, and ask 'Why not?'"
-- George Bernard Shaw