A Just Transition to a living economy will transform the pillars of the current, extractive economy. We must protect and retrain workers as industries change gears; but our analysis must go even further. We believe that we must also root our movement in a call for cultural restoration and respect, deep democracy, and a shift in how we treat one another as individuals and in community.
The economy we have now is built to extract natural resources, exploit workers, and lead to the further enclosure of wealth and power. As a result our ecosystem – the earth – is in drastic crisis. Climate change, wealth inequality, and rising geopolitical tensions are all interconnected problems rooted in the way our economy is currently managed. OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon has a demonstrated track record of raising up and centering the voices and experiences of frontline communities, because we rarely have a say in decisions impacting us.
Solutions to these global crises are complex and must be carefully considered. Achieving the change our communities need through our existing political systems can feel impossible. International financial interests are always at the table. Our elections at every level have long been corrupted by the undue influence of industry. Corporations have limited our vision of what is possible, reducing all our possible futures down to those that maximize shareholder profits. From US imperialism, criminal “justice,” immigration, and our food system: every industry, every policy, and every underlying assumption, must be carefully reconsidered to attain buen vivir – “living well.”
We know we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon and demonstrate our leadership to the world. The conventional wisdom around fighting carbon pollution has been to regulate a maximum amount of carbon pollution (a cap) and allow companies who emit less than their cap to sell their excess “carbon credits,” (trade) to polluters who pollute over their cap. Then, according to the conventional wisdom, the cap can be reduced on a set schedule, eventually getting total emissions down to a level that doesn’t destroy the planet.
This conventional wisdom is, we believe, tainted by corporate interest. A Just Transition must move away from business regulating itself towards society’s firm, principled regulation of business. We know how greatly pollution damages our health, quality of life, public spending, and our planet. We can not wait for business to recognize the value in saving our own lives.
Carbon trading has not been shown to reduce emissions, and provides little long-term incentive to make the necessary investments for a post-carbon future. Polluters buy credits as a form of permission to pollute. Polluters profit off of pollution they may have otherwise emitted, creating the perverse incentive to pollute at high levels until carbon trading is law, then quickly reduce emissions and profit off the emissions cut. Cap and trade systems can actually make pollution inequities worse. Communities who live at the fence-line of polluters still breathe dirty air. Oregon’s frontline communities are close to major transportation corridors and sources of diesel particulate. The people most likely to live near polluting industry worldwide are low income people, people of color, rural and tribal communities. Ultimately carbon trading treats our air as a commodity to be bought and sold. This commodification of this fundamental element of human life is unacceptable to us.
We also have concerns around offsets. An offset gives a polluter the right to keep polluting – because they’ve paid someone else to keep a forest intact, or some other project designed to remove carbon from the air. Offsets mean pollution that can continue indefinitely, and we oppose this false solution that enables a few to make money at the expense of impacted people and the planet. Plus, there’s no proof that many carbon-capture solutions actually work. Even if a historically-marginalized community receives an investment from an offset project, it is at the expense of another community and the entire planet. We cannot support the use of offsets.
We do not support the current iteration of cap and trade being proposed in House Bill 1070. As currently written, the bill gives too much away to industry, fails to hold polluters accountable, the use of offsets fails to protect frontline communities here and throughout the world from deadly carbon pollution, and allows profiteering off of human and planetary suffering. The current legislation fails to reduce the harm caused by this extractive economy and its reckless dependence on fossil fuels.
OPAL is unwavering in our commitment to working closely with frontline communities to further the solutions that we know will create real and lasting change. We will seek out visionary paths to carbon reduction that center our values, target the systems most responsible (transportation, particularly diesel, and agriculture), and advance real polluter-pays accountability and frontline leadership to protect and invest in our communities.
The path Oregon chooses on carbon reduction will have global impacts. The extractive industries are overjoyed that they’re getting another watered-down cap and trade bill instead of an ambitious, bold, and much-needed solution that stops polluting our communities and destroying our ecosystem. Oregon can do better, and with so much at stake, we must do better, for our children and ourselves in our pursuit of a safe and healthy environment in the places we live, work, learn, pray, and play.