Collaborating for Climate Change

As the United States federal government has chosen to ignore the climate emergency, with more than one hundred rollbacks to environmental regulations and withdrawing the country from the Paris Agreement, the responsibility has fallen to states and cities to take progressive steps to protect their populations and territories. Many have joined international collaborative efforts, like the C40, but there are also regional groups like the Pacific Climate Collaborative (PCC) which are focusing on the climate through an environmental as well as sustainable economic lens. During Climate Week, we attended a webinar with three of the leaders from the PCC, California’s Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart, Portland, Oregon mayor, Ted Wheeler with a brief video message from Washington Governor Jay Inslee to start the hour off.

Governor Inslee noted that “every week needs to be climate week,” recognizing the fires that are devouring the west coast. “We are devastated about these unprecedented fires and now have the worst air quality in the world. We used to call these natural disasters. These are climate fires, not regular wildfires.” Mr. Inslee also mentioned that, “west coast marine waters were becoming too acidified for shell fish” and the economic hit that climate disruption was having on the seafood industry up and down the coast.  

“We’ve been working to decarbonize electricity, buildings, transportation & more. Our region is second to none for taking on the existential threat of climate change. But it has been a tough year, probably the toughest year yet. Americans are summoning grit. We’ll continue to pursue economic transformation that achieves equity, clean energy and good paying jobs.”

Ms. Kounalakis, Mr. Stewart and Mr. Wheeler all spoke of the severity of the continuing fires, and the difficulty of handling them at the same time as COVID and an economic downturn, with Mr. Wheeler saying “Thousands of Oregonians have been displaced, entire towns destroyed. The hazard level in air was literally off the charts. We are in the middle of a pandemic and an economic recession. The US is in a transformational period for racial equity – these crises are interconnected. We must address this and take this into account as BIPOC communities are disproportionally impacted by COVID and economic consequences. The same people experience climate change first and worst.”

With regard to the lack of federal response to the climate emergency and the immediacy of the fires, Lt Gov. Kounalakis said, “we’ve been working hard with the Feds, but we need more support. Governor Newsome has been extremely careful not to let politics overwhelm the response through these crises. Never the less, speaking out about climate change, our president said the other day that ‘science doesn’t know.’ This is dangerous, and we are working with the reality of where we are with federal government.” Ms. Kounalakis clarified, “I cannot create a false impression – it is imperative to work with federal government, but when we don’t align, we do what we have to, to move on.”

Mayor Wheeler chimed in, “As leader of this anarchist jurisdiction, we won’t be sharing Christmas cards with the Feds this year! But we are engaging with other mayors in the C40, other states, to align with Paris, and relentlessly stealing each other’s ideas.”

He continued, “Portland’s clean energy fund has $60 million per year for climate justice in BIPOC communities. Those communities are first and hardest hit by climate change so we are investing renewables, EV infrastructure, and leading with equity front and center. Even though the feds aren’t being helpful, we’re going ahead with our plans.

Vancouver Mayor Stewart said, “I feel guilty! The British Columbia government is very supportive” of climate initiatives. “We have same issues, just different orders & priorities.”

The question was asked, “Within the PPC, what can you get done together that you couldn’t do alone?”

Kenneth Stewart replied: “High speed rail up the west coast! This will require buy in from cities and government too, for construction, as governments are reluctant to get involved without buy in. It is hard to tackle climate change without buy in of national governments.  International change between cities is important, but hardcore lobbying is vital to keep the pressure on.”

Tim Wheeler stated, “our progress report shows that education and job training are focusing on new green economy. We need to ask manufactures what they need for work force – and we need state & federal support to be able to scale up as this nascent industry is set to blossom. This is one area where the PCC can get money, share ideas, private sector partners who are reliant, and retool communities.

Eleni Koulanakis said, “Carbon copy everything Mayors Wheeler & Stewart just said. We completely agree and want to work together. I want to underscore how huge Governor Newsome’s executive order was today – only ZEVS sold in CA in 2035 – it is an audacious goal. It is a transformative way for every-day people to think about the car they drive. It is a sea change, but it will be faster and more efficient if general public buys in completely, particularly at local level. Building back better is going to be key.”

Sally Barr