My testimony to Eugene City Council on banning methane in new buildings


Dear mayor and city councilors,

Thank you for your time & attention to this issue.

I remember the 1970s oil crisis, when oil prices spiked, we sat in cars in long lines for gas, and America had a sudden and profound interest in energy independence and clean energy. Even as a kid it was pretty obvious that pollution was bad, and that we had alternatives. I was excited about the future I would be growing up into when I read articles about electric cars, and saw that the president had put solar water heating panels up on the White House roof. (By this time, the fossil fuel companies had done research that convinced them that global warming was real, but they chose to keep that research private.)

I was very disappointed when the next president chose to take down those solar water heating panels. Why would he do that? Fossil fuel prices had come back down, and many people seemed okay with the increasing pollution that burning more fossil fuels brings.

By the end of the 1980s, I had graduated from college and was working at Technical Education Research Center, formatting and laying out climate science pilot curricula for middle and high school students. I and my co-workers watched James Hansen’s testimony to Congress on climate change with great interest. The data he presented was very concerning, and convincing, and we were glad to see there was bipartisan interest to take action. By 1992, George H. W. Bush signed the UN Convention on Climate Change and it appeared that major change would be coming soon.

People playing golf while the hillside behind them is engulfed in flames.

But rather than supporting and joining in any effort for change, fossil fuel companies chose propaganda. They hired the Heartland Institute, the same organization who had successfully produced confusion to delay action on tobacco smoking, to do the same for global warming. It worked. Another decade lost, as one party chose to go along with the lies and obfuscation. (By this time, fossil fuel companies had also chosen to actively prepare for how to continue their extraction and distribution in a future of significantly rising temperatures, which internally they were certain was coming.)

By the early 2000s, they had even convinced climate activists like Bill McKibben that natural gas was a good thing, a “bridge fuel” we could choose that was better than oil or coal. (I was fooled too!) While it is true that the methane in natural gas burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, it is also a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2. And there is so much leakage in systems of methane extraction, storage, and distribution that its warming effect on our climate is frequently found to be just as bad as coal. Fossil fuel companies could have been pro-active in responding to this, but instead they chose to continue lying, obfuscating, and dragging their feet, even as the evidence became clearer and clearer. (Remember BP’s expensive 2000 ad campaign rebranding themselves as “Beyond Petroleum,” while they continued to extract the stuff full speed?)

Given all of the choices that fossil fuel companies have made over the decades, I hope you will forgive me if I do not trust a thing they say which is not well supported by independent experts. If they had not made all of those choices to actively confuse the public, then publicly available, widely trusted information would by now have convinced the overwhelming majority of people to choose electricity for cooking & heating, and this legislation would have been unnecessary.

Instead we live in this world, where these companies have done nothing but sow confusion and doubt. It is entirely reasonable for you to have been pretty sure of your vote even before hearing the testimony and evidence of the past few months. Ending methane in new construction is not some radical new idea out of left field. Rather it is, along with all of the other work you have been doing to reduce greenhouse gases, decades overdue.

Thank you again for your time.

John Abbe
Ward 4
Eugene, Oregon


2 Responses to “My testimony to Eugene City Council on banning methane in new buildings”

  1. And they’re still at it. National Public Radio uncovers six news sites in Alabama being straight-up paid to produce coverage against clean energy.

  2. Recent article on Exxon’s climate predictions from the early 1980s:

    Eugene’s city council banned gas in residential buildings up to three stories, but pushed off to the future any such ban in high-rises or commercial or industrial buildings. Anyway, it’s a start.

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