International Climate Action Day

Do you know what the number 350 means? If you do nothing else to mark this year’s International Climate Action Day, I suggest you discover the meaning behind this number, and why an organization has devoted itself to educating the world to this cause.


350 parts per million is the magic number of sustainable levels of carbon in the atmosphere. Anything more than that, scientists say, causes Artic ice to melt, widespread drought, and kills forests. The earth is currently at 390 ppm. Yes. We are too high. But, the organizers say: “If we can stop pouring more carbon into the atmosphere, then forests and oceans will slowly suck some of it out of the air and return us to safe levels.”

350.org is an International movement (click here to see more about this event) to raise citizen awareness and create a collective sense of urgency when our governments meet in December in Copenhagen to agree on a new climate treaty.

To live the creed: Think Global Act Local, Neighbors for Clean Air has launched a letter writing campaign aimed at reducing Portland’s local industrial toxic air emissions. Citizens of Portland have already adopted lifestyle changes that reduced our local carbon emissions in 2007 to 1% below 1990 levels. That is outstanding, and shows a commitment by individuals to make the necessary sacrifices to reverse the damage of global climate change. But, that is only part of our air pollution problem in Portland. Industry makes up at least 15% of the total air pollution soup in our tri-county air shed, and as far as we can tell, looking at one industrial polluter, that number is only increasing.

So our 350 action is to send 350 letters (ok, I would rather it be 3500) to the Governor’s office to ask for the following specific actions to curtail industrial air pollution in our state:

1. Reduce the Ambient Benchmark Concentration for manganese to the lower 0.09 ug/m3 level recently adopted by California.
2. Monitor to ensure the ambient conditions of fenceline neighborhoods of known industrial lead sources do not exceed the new stricter federal requirement of no more than 0.15µg/m3 per quarter.

Why these two actions?

Before last spring, when I came across the report published in USA Today about industrial air pollution and our schools, I knew little about the air toxic Manganese. But it is this toxin that put fifteen Portland schools, primarily in North and Northwest Portland, in the top 2% of the schools nationwide with the worst air due to industrial air toxics. Manganese, like lead, is a potent neurotoxin. There are no safe levels of exposure to children. While we have had some constructive conversation about the air toxics problem in our city over the last six months, there have been no substantive changes.

It is time to hold industry in this state to the same high standard we hold ourselves, to be part of the solution. This takes incremental rule changes and specific legislation that gets at source specific mitigation. This is how we will all win, and Oregon will truly become the greenest state in America.

Send your letter to the Governor today:

Governor Kulongoski

160 State Capitol

900 Court Street

Salem, Oregon 97301-4047

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