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Climate Emergency Declaration: What's Next?

By Janet Weil

On a day when the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis published its 500+ page Action Plan, political support for the widening of the I-5 freeway in Northeast Portland completely fell apart, and protesters continued their extended face off with police, Portland’s city government finally voted unanimously on a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED). The vote had been scheduled for Earth Day, which feels years ago by now. All quotes below are from the City of Portland’s statement on the Declaration.


The 3-hour-long, evening City Council meeting had moments of unintentional comedy. When Commissioner Eudaly presented her measure about congestion pricing to reduce rush hour traffic volume on freeways, Commissioner Hardesty, perhaps channeling the spirit of the Yellow Jackets movement in France, said that congestion pricing had never been agreed to in Council, and offered a “friendly amendment.” Her actually not-so-friendly amendment stripped out mention of congestion pricing, replacing it with “dynamic pricing capacity” in the final version of the CED. The amended text was not read aloud, as Mayor Wheeler, complaining of hunger at 9 pm, rushed through the vote on the amendment before calling the vote on the entire CED.


The Portland Youth Climate Council had presented a proposal to the City that the Declaration call for an 8% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. No one on the City Council presented this proposal as an amendment, however – so it was never voted on. XRPDX fully supports this as a goal and we will keep pushing with other organizations including PYCC to make it happen. Also we’re pleased that a Youth Climate Summit is planned for later this year: “Pursues partnerships with youth-serving organizations to support a youth-led summit on climate in 2020.”


Thirty-six groups, representing environmental and racial justice, youth, climate activism and civic engagement, and definitely including XRPDX, put time and energy into the CED for months, leading the City Council to make major revisions to the document. Apparently it is the first CED (out of over 1700 worldwide) to center racial justice; this includes creating “a framework for government and community to work together as equal partners to identify and implement strategies that will advance a shared vision for climate justice and action.” Other gains include a commitment to more tree-planting, especially on the Eastside, and free year-round TriMet passes for riders age 18 and younger (high school students have had a free pass for 5 years now). The City will “prevent further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the City, and quicken the transition to clean, renewable fuel options.” EV charging stations will be increased, including at apartment complexes.


The biggest goal, and the hardest to achieve, is “at least 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions before 2050.” This falls well short of what XRPDX, and the Extinction Rebellion movement worldwide, have been urging, based on climate science. Net-zero relies on offsets which can be scams and/or encourage more driving flying. Offsets often hurts indigenous communities through neo-colonialist schemes like REDD that have been, and are, vehemently opposed. What we need, in this city and around the planet, is zero greenhouse gas emissions, period.


How will we arrive at real zero? Keep showing up, keep pushing, keep working with our allies, especially in BIPOC communities already leading the environmental justice movement here. Keep rebelling – for LIFE.

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