A letter to the Planning Board about Climate Change — by Christian Milneal

This letter was written by Portland resident Christian MilNeal and submitted to the Portland Planning Board on October 23, 2018. It is part of the public record.

To the planning department and planning board:

If you haven’t already, please take a look at the IPCC’s “Summary for Policymakers” document from the recent Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15).

The most important takeaway is essentially that we (the City of Portland, along with every other public jurisdiction on Earth) need to cut emissions in half within the next 10 years, and completely by 2040, in order to preserve the conditions necessary for civilization.

And in fact, the jurisdictions that care about these impacts (and I would hope that the City of Portland is among them) will need to act even faster, and more dramatically, to compensate from a lack of action from other jurisdictions that don’t take sufficient action.

In practical terms for us, this means continuing our work to reduce heating and cooling expenditures, and increasing our use of renewable energy, both on-site and from the grid. In those sectors the data suggest that Maine and Portland are more or less on track to meet the IPCC’s requirements.

But building systems and electricity are each a small component of Maine’s emissions — the biggest source of greenhouse gases here comes from motor vehicle tailpipes, and those emissions are still increasing statewide.

As a city, we need to shift from a place where 80% of trips are made by automobile to a place where 80% of trips are made on foot, bike or public transit. And, if we want to preserve the legal, ecological and economic systems that enable our city to exist, we need to do this in the next 10 years.

These are the laws of physics; let’s now turn to the zoning laws of the City of Portland, where, contrary to the threats we face, businesses like Wex are still being required to build hundreds of parking spaces in a downtown location with abundant access to bike routes, walkable neighborhoods, buses and ferry routes.

I understand that the Planning Board does not have the authority to demand that Jonathan Cohen redesign his project for the car-free future we urgently need to build. And I don’t expect Wex, a company in the business of facilitating gasoline purchases, to take bold leadership here.

Rather, this example, and the thousands of additional parking garage spaces currently being planned in our downtown, should serve as an urgent warning that the city’s planning staff need to come up with new policies, now, that give our city a fighting chance of staying above water.

This case — where a developer is proposing a structure to hold 600 climate-baking machines in a location that will almost certainly be flooded by mid-century if other developers continue to follow the same example — serves as a clear wake-up call to how out-of-date and self-destructive Portland’s current zoning and transportation policies are.

We need you to do better.

Christian MilNeil