On March 16, 2017, Let’s Talk Climate hosted Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in a Climate Action Town Hall. Let’s Talk Climate is co-sponsored by 350PDX and the Oregon Environmental Council. Three topics were up for discussion: the city’s energy policy, sustainable transportation, and just transitions. With the TaborSpace sanctuary nearly filled to capacity, an energetic Mayor Wheeler kicked off the evening by introducing the members of a three-person task force who, over the past eight months, have been working on a climate agenda report that will supposedly build on Portland’s current Climate Action Plan. The task force’s report is scheduled to be released to the public sometime in the next few weeks, with Mayor Wheeler promising that in regards to climate action, “We’re not going to do the least we can, we’re going to do the most we can.”
While the mayor was only available for the first hour of the event, his task force–which consists of Michael Armstrong (senior climate planner from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability), Nathan Howard (senior policy advisor to the mayor), and Leah Treat (director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation)–fielded audience questions for another hour. City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was also in attendance and spent the last half hour on stage with the task force after Mayor Wheeler left. Audience questions were varied, some broad and open-ended, others focused on more specific issues like Carty/Boardman and Portland’s relationship with Wells Fargo Bank. All of which made for an interesting climate discussion.
Early in the evening, Michael Armstrong pointed out that while our city has made progress, we still have more to do. According to him the solutions are there, but they’re challenging and we will need strong leadership to push for change. Armstrong presented seven key focus areas including the land use and urban forum; transportation systems–we must make it easier to get around without a vehicle; energy supply–we must switch to 100% renewable; building efficiency; consumption–we need to pay attention and get smarter about how we’re consuming; preparedness for climate change; and equity and climate justice–we need to remember that the people who did the least to cause climate change are going to suffer the most and we need to find solutions that are equitable for them.
Leah Treat spent a good amount of time discussing her area of expertise, transportation. She warned that transportation emissions are now outpacing other emissions and currently make up ⅓ or more of our carbon footprint. She wants to see Portland enhance and expand walking, biking, and transit roadways, while making safety a priority for people who walk, bike, or ride the bus. The thinking here is that the safer people feel walking, biking, or taking transit, the less they will use their cars. Treat added that some of the challenges she faces with these projects are finding the necessary funding and community support.
Chloe Eudaly spoke at length about which companies Portland should invest in and which to divest from, and said that while she can’t make any promises, there is a plan to study the feasibility of a municipal bank. She also discussed the importance youth being involved in local politics and encouraged kids to get involved where they can as the choices being made affect them too.
Additionally, housing affordability was discussed as both a social justice and environmental issue. As rents increase, more people are being forced to the outskirts of the city and farther from their work which can have a negative impact on families as well as the environment. Eudaly believes that an urban infill policy–allowing additional dwellings units to be built on a property or splitting large homes into multiple dwellings–would be a low impact way to add density and preserve the character of neighborhoods. All members of the task force agreed that increasing Portland’s urban canopy will have a positive effect on the environment and help improve air quality.
As for Carty/Boardman, Mayor Wheeler believes that we will transition to renewable energy faster than the estimated life of the proposed plant and because we don’t want to be stuck with a stranded asset, he is trying to work with PGE to see what else might be done instead of a natural gas plant. No other details were given. Additionally when questioned about fossil fuel infrastructure and the recent ban on new fossil fuel terminals in Portland, the mayor’s task force said that if the community wants that policy to stand, we need to use less transportation fuels. Supply depends on demand, and if there’s no demand, then there’s no need for the terminals.
As the evening came to a close, each guest speaker offered a final and brief “green vision” thought.
Nathan Howard said that while he is excited about the energy of this city and its community members, as well as the opportunities he sees for a renewable energy future, we still have a long ways to go when it comes to racial justice, both in the environmental community and the community at large.
Leah Treat reiterated how long haul trucks and airplanes are this nation’s leading emitters. She asked the audience to think about where our goods come from and to buy local whenever possible.
Michael Armstrong encouraged individuals to make one low carbon choice every day whether that’s biking to work or turning off the lights when you leave a room. Then when it comes to the big choices–like buying a car or a house–always choose the low carbon option if you can afford it. And if you can’t, he suggested organizing to make the people who can afford it pay for it.
Chloe Eudaly ended the evening by stating that she does not believe the burden should be on consumers alone, that our elected reps need to have the vision to take on big projects, pass big legislation, and eliminate choices that shouldn’t exist in the first place.She lauded the strength of “people power” in Portland and encouraged us to stay strong and keep going.
All audience questions from this event will be sent to the mayor’s office for additional consideration and response.
Written by: Valerie Geary