More than 3,000 poeple came to UP for a conversation about global warming.More than 3,000 poeple came to UP for a conversation about global warming.
Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois

Oregon can play a key role in the world’s fight against global warming — hatching the prototype green economy in the process.

That was a key message last week as more than 3,000 people attended a question-and-answer session with lawmakers at the University of Portland sports dome. The event was part of Focus the Nation, which included more than 1,700 similar gatherings nationwide. The broadcast discussion concluded a day of lectures and displays at the Catholic campus in North Portland.

“I went to college in the 1960s. Civil rights and women’s rights were our causes,” Oregon winery owner Susan Sokol Blosser told hundreds of students in an afternoon lecture. “We were in the streets fighting. For you, it is global warming. Go for it.”

Sokol Blosser, who received an honorary degree from the university in 2004, is held up as an exceptionally green entrepreneur in a particularly green state. Her vineyard, close to Oregon’s Trappist monastery, has gone organic and is seeking to nix its carbon emissions.

The Sokol Blosser vintner gets a mountain bike instead of an all-terrain vehicle. Tractors run on biodiesel. Plastic use is being phased out. In lieu of chemicals, a squad of feral cats and helpful bugs have been imported to control vermin and pests.

Woody and leafy material gets re-used as compost. Barrels of aging pinot noir are kept in the constant clime of a new underground cellar, negating the need to run a heater or air conditioner. The winery’s new toilets have a dual flush mode to save water.

But Sokol Blosser has much more to do before she feels comfortable calling the winery sustainable, she says. “We are here today to talk about changing the way we live. And that’s tough, because we live well,” she told the audience. “We need the public sector to act, but it was important for me to act as an individual. I cannot control the government, but I can control what I do.”

Sokol Blosser has become a leader in urging other wineries and businesses to follow her example. She has found that, far from being a business liability, going green has been a boon.

“People came to us and said, ‘We love what you are doing. We want to buy your wine,’” she explains. “We have found that loving the earth is good business.”

Students also heard from Erik Sten, the Portland city commissioner recognized for trying to create a green economy in the city. He was behind removal of dams on the Sandy River to help fish populations and pushed a law that holds back city money for construction unless buildings are conservation-minded. Sten is now backing green requirements even for projects funded completely by private money.

Enacting the first greenhouse gas policy in the nation in 1990, Portland has seen a 15 percent per-capita reduction in emissions. The city has more green certified buildings and hybrid cars per capita than anywhere else in the nation. At the same time, the population and economy here have boomed.

It’s no coincidence, said Sten, explaining that the things a city does to reduce emissions increase livability. That includes better public transportation, housing close to downtown, bike paths and vigorous recycling.

“Design a good city and then people have to drive less,” Sten said. “If you do it right, it builds business, it saves you money and it is good for the community.”

He urged students to oppose a proposed 11-lane bridge over the Columbia River and push for trains instead. He also asked them to fight for increased federal fuel and emission standards for automobiles. Sten said that the public may be able to push more serious ideas than the government could initiate.

Students also heard from Hot Lips Pizza owner David Yudkin, New Seasons Market CEO Brian Rohter, Bon Appetit Marketing Director Maisie Greenwalt and Sequential Fuels founder Tomas Endicott. There was even a one-act play on global warming.

In the sports dome in the evening, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and other politicians fielded questions from curious and sharp-witted students from nine local colleges.

“Don’t let the automobile industry and oil industry control our future,” Kulongoski said to a roar of cheers. He is pushing electric car use and fighting to have auto emission standards stricter than federal regulations. He and several other western governors are involved in a court battle with the Bush administration.

Kulongoski says he wants Oregon to be an example of environmental policy for other states and a hub of industries like wind and wave power.

“It’s time to bring green industries into the main stream and create jobs,” said state Rep. Jackie Dingfelder, a Portland Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., appeared via web cam, saying emissions caps and a pollution trading system being discussed on Capitol Hill have a good chance of helping global warming, since the U.S far and away is the leading producer of carbon. Each American isresponsible for 13 times the emissions of a typical resident of India, for example. Prompted by a question from a student, Blumenauer called the global-warming-related plight of the poor in developing nations “the great moral and ethical issue of our age.” As Blumenauer described federal bills that are pending, one student yelled from the stands, “Where’s the sacrifice?”

State Sen. Ben Westlund, an independent from central Oregon, agreed with a student who said that eating local is a prime way to fight global warming. It reduces shipping emissions and boosts the economy. Oregon’s progressive land use policy — which survived a challenge last year — helps make local eating possible, Westlund said to fiery applause.