Our View: Prioritize investments to fight the climate crisis before it's too late
For decades, the city of Portland has been a climate change leader. But the last couple of months have offered tragic and sobering reminders that we are living in a climate-altered world. We've seen extreme heat take the lives of dozens across the region, record-breaking wildfires burn western forests and towns, and floods devastate Europe and China.
This is what climate change looks like.
Scientists say we will experience more — and more intense — heat waves, wildfires, snowstorms, extreme rain events and flooding. All of this will disrupt our lives; threaten the health of our communities; and impose untold costs on households, businesses and government.
Communities that are already vulnerable — communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, the houseless community, and the elderly — are especially vulnerable to climate impacts.
To protect all our communities, we must retool our cities and our economy by quickly shifting away from fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions from our buildings, transportation systems and energy grid. We must invest in green infrastructure, reduce urban heat islands and improve community resiliency and natural systems protection.
We will fight to make these a budget priority for the city of Portland, but we need our regional governmental partners and private businesses to prioritize these key investments, too. We have been talking about this for decades and we're running out of time.
In Portland, we're poised to make swift use of increased resources. This was clear in last month's report about the city's progress on our Climate Emergency Declaration. As we dealt with a global pandemic, economic challenges and a racial reckoning, the city still made progress to fight climate change.
We adopted an internal "cost of carbon" for city operations, and expanded bus-only Rose lanes and bike/pedestrian infrastructure. We also supported a youth-led summit on climate justice, lifting up the generation that will live the majority of its life in climate crisis.
The city also launched two flagship efforts with community partners. The Climate Justice Initiative created a new space for community to shape climate action priorities. The second program, Build/Shift, is a BIPOC-community-led team that will develop an equitable net-zero-buildings policy. These new models of collaborative and community governance help the city understand and prioritize community needs and elevate BIPOC voices in how we confront the climate crisis.
We are also advancing transit accessibility and affordability, updating building code to create EV-ready homes and buildings, and developing a program to reduce emissions from large industrial and institutional emitters. We remain committed to transitioning from fossil fuels to 100% clean, renewable electricity and cleaner fuels.
Portland is well-positioned to move forward more aggressively on climate change, but to operationalize these policies we need more action, more resources, and more collaboration with impacted communities.
The city must prioritize climate action in our budgeting, programming, capital investments and policy development. Every investment the city, our business partners and our communities make is an opportunity to address the climate crisis.
We need new ways to fund and stimulate the transition to cleaner-burning fuels, and those that currently rely on fossil fuels — from large companies to those of us who drive cars — need to be a part of the solution.
Portland is home to so many creative people — people willing to work together, take bold risks, and think differently about solutions. We have the will and the way — but not the means. The time is now to prioritize climate change in our decision-making and budgeting. Let's seize it.
Carmen Rubio has served as a Portland City Commissioner since January 2021 and oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Andrea Durbin serves as the director of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
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