In 2018, Oregon’s new majority showed itself. A near-supermajority of the electorate showed up to defend immigrants, women, and good government. A near-supermajority of Portlanders voted to tax major corporations to fund the clean energy future. Oregon’s legislature now has a supermajority of elected officials promising to enact a progressive agenda, led by a Governor emboldened to win a brighter future for our state in her professed final term in office. If there were ever a time to take bold action, this is it. 2019 could represent a new era for our state.
We can’t let the optimism we feel about the last election overshadow the reality of the present moment. We live at a time of climate crisis, from raging wildfires and weather weirdness, to the melting of permafrost and ongoing species dieoff, met with entrenched, corrupt governments and corporations refusing to act on the pressing crises of our day. It’s not just the environment, or animals, or natural resources. It’s human conduct, from war to political graft. It’s the worsening of policy at the moment we need drastic and immediate improvement. There is a risk that decision-makers will fail to grasp the gravity of this moment, and will fail to do what is necessary to make meaningful progress toward addressing the grave issues of our time.
OPAL is grounded in the environmental justice principles of deep and meaningful involvement of frontline communities in the formulation of policy solutions. We have a right to self-determine policy for what we really need to address the global, national and local crises before us. In this document, we lay out what a real climate justice agenda for the state of Oregon can look like, informed by the direct engagement of our allies and friends across the state, from Indigenous communities facing the Pacific Connector fracked gas pipeline, to migrant farmers, isolated rural communities, and low-income people and people of color who reside in our cities. Our agenda is informed by long-term relationship building over the last two years with frontline communities from across Oregon, all over the United States, and around the globe. Below is the beginning of a comprehensive agenda, and a bold vision of the future, made up of what Oregon really needs, to weather the storm ahead.
Climate Justice Requires Rooted Renters and Immigrant Justice
Environmental Justice communities in the global south are being displaced by climate change, and coming to the US to seek refuge. Within our country, Oregon is expected to serve as a climate refuge as other areas burn, or become flooded, arid, or otherwise uninhabitable. We are witness to massive numbers of new Oregonians travelling here to enjoy the beauty and bounty of our state. The influx will result in massive rent spikes and displacement. Preventing this disaster requires statewide protection from unjust evictions for renters, as well as allowing landlords to increase rents up to a cap that prevents price gouging.
But preventing displacement will not resolve the tension as people move to our state. Oregon needs to make massive investments in new, community-controlled, permanently-affordable housing. We must increase density in our cities, end apartment bans, and share skyrocketing land costs among as many individuals as possible. New housing must be built by our communities – contractors and labor from low-income communities and communities of color who provide training and apprenticeship, providing good-paying jobs to communities facing the most pressure on rents. This housing must be owned by trusted community organizations or the general public. The time is now to end the housing crisis with smart, strategic investments and policy shifts to benefit unhoused and unstably-housed people, renters, and the people who come to Oregon to seek refuge from climate disaster.
Simultaneously, many people wish to come to this country to escape the perils of ecological collapse, economic inequality, and imperialism. The United States is the primary exporter of war and the weapons of war. That military is a primary contributor to carbon output. US foreign policy demands and imposes free markets and systemic wealth inequality. Given our collective responsibility for many root causes of international displacement, Oregonians (and residents of every US state) have a duty and an obligation to welcome, support, and guarantee rights and protections to immigrants, including a path to citizenship and elimination of barriers to accessing a fulfilling and rich life. We must daily refute the white nationalist lie, which claims these lands as the birthright of a small minority of European-descended citizens, whose ancestors were settlers on this continent.
Climate Justice Requires Transportation Liberation
The number one source of carbon output in Oregon is transportation. Single-occupancy vehicles, dirty diesel trucks, and shipping are primary drivers of Oregon’s climate footprint. As families with low incomes are being displaced away from urban centers rife with jobs and transportation options, they become more reliant on older, dirtier-polluting cars. The influx of new Portlanders has choked our streets with traffic and our air with exhaust. The resulting congestion has slowed our public buses to a halt. The City of Portland cut all funding to student transit access to put resources into a ballooning police budget. We’ve witnessed an increase in unconstitutional police presence on the transit system, which we know targets communities of color, the unhoused, low income people, and youth most. Ridership of public transit is at a ten-year low as a result of all this. Until public transportation becomes fareless, highly-efficient, prioritized over cars, and decriminalized, our low income communities will choose to rely on single occupancy, fossil-fuel vehicles.
But simply making the existing transit system more accessible is not enough. Oregon needs a massive investment in new, clean energy infrastructure to move people and cargo. Fossil fuel reliant vehicles, and single-occupancy vehicles, must be recognized as artifacts of a bygone era. The future of transportation is multi-rider as much as it is electrified. Encouraging carpooling is as critical to eliminating congestion, and related emissions, as electrification is to limiting emissions. More electric, single-occupancy vehicles on our roads still creates delays and increased emissions for non-electric cars.
Oregon’s constitution limits auto-user fees (like vehicle registration fees or the gas tax) to construction of roads and bridges. This creates a Highway Trust Fund which we believe can and should be redistributed to support clean, public transportation priorities. New sources of revenue are possible in the coming legislative session, as are bold moves to undo decades of misguided investments and build an alternative transportation system that every Oregonian chooses to access.
We must demand better from decision-makers from the City, region, and state. If we take climate change seriously, we must address the primary driver of climate change in Oregon.
Climate Justice Requires Clean Air
Portland has some of the worst air quality of any city in the United States. Our state regulations on air quality were written by polluters. Oregon has some of the most lax regulation of diesel engines in the country, making our state a dumping ground for engines banned in California and Washington, engines which emit enormous toxic plumes. Emitters of poison in our neighborhoods are not required to take into account what is already in the air in the neighborhood when limiting their emissions. Discussions about limiting pollution are fraught with exemptions for particular industries, permitting of a certain amount of poisoning, or purchasing permission to maintain carbon output, or pay a fee for excessive overpolluting. This injustice is seen as “the cost of doing business,” or what is “politically feasible,” but it causes harm to the people who breathe polluted air, in Oregon and anywhere that passes such unjust laws.
Oregon’s diesel laws must be reformed. Public vehicle fleets must be transitioned to clean, renewable fuels, and public agencies should immediately invest in infrastructure to make that transition possible. Businesses like trucking and shipping should be held accountable for their ongoing impact in our neighborhoods. Air quality regulations should no longer be beholden to polluting industries but rather to standards of health and science. We must not allow pollution permitting that enables frontline communities to be poisoned so that others may profit. To stop pollution, we must look further. Workers in industries which pollute deserve a livelihood that doesn’t come at the expense of human health. Businesses which pollute must be regulated to prevent negative impacts to the community, and must pay to support cleaning up their industry and transitioning their workers, or they should be shut down.
Climate Justice Requires Energy Democracy and Indigenous Sovereignty
The wealthiest corporations in the world are fossil fuel companies. They’ve known since the 1970s that climate change was real and caused by their product. They’ve been making business decisions since that time based on that knowledge. One such business decision has been to create an army of think-tanks and politicians who deny their responsibility for climate change. They spent decades knowingly pumping ever-more carbon into the atmosphere, pushing us closer to the point of no return. And now these same corporations claim to be leaders in clean energy. They’re building wind and solar farms first and foremost to protect their revenue models.
Their proposed solutions are suspect, if not absurd. They claim that fracked gas, obtained through underground explosions and pumping noxious chemicals into the earth, is a “clean” energy, based only on emissions at the point of use. They claim “biofuel” is renewable, never noting that the production and use of these fuels produces even more carbon and is ecologically harmful. Their goals are obvious. They want profit, and they want to control the future of energy when the transition from fossil fuels takes place. And in laying pipelines across the country to export oil and fracked gas, these companies are desecrating sacred indigenous lands and waterways, violating treaties, and putting communities at risk. All so they can maintain the outsized profits that fossil fuels produce.
True energy democracy must be our unified demand. We must not allow fossil fuel companies – or their new, green subsidiaries – to define, own, and sell to us the future of energy. Energy from the sun, from wind, from tides, and from geothermal sources must be owned by the people, not private interests. This is especially true since those profiteers spent much of the last 40 years lying directly to the public about the need to transition. Energy production should be localized, rather than shipped in across miles of transmission lines and pipelines that are unsafe and likely to face failure, particularly in inclement weather. And low income communities must receive direct support to reduce the burden of energy costs. When indigenous sovereignty is honored, colonial land use practices that commodify natural resources, desecrate lands and waterways, pollute the air, and sell the sky will be rejected out of a recognition of the sacredness and interconnectedness of all life and the elements.
Climate Justice Requires Food Sovereignty and Waste Reduction
The agricultural sector is at risk, and the food we eat is at stake. Shocks to the transportation systems, changes in weather, and economic disruptions threaten breakdowns in the food system. Much of the food we eat is manufactured or grown in distant places, shipped in single-use packaging, and in worst case scenarios is thrown away before it is eaten. This shipping brings many polluting shipping containers to our port, and trucks to and through our neighborhoods. Many farms use an excessive amount of water to produce low-yield crops, or pollute waterways through runoff as from major industrial feedlots, slaughterhouses, or crops soaked in pesticides and weed killers. All so astonishing amounts of the food product can rot on shelves or end up uneaten. This extraordinary waste must come to an end. We must reduce the energy used to obtain our food by growing it ourselves, using policy measures to halt wasteful and unsustainable agricultural practices, reducing the amount of food we put in the trash, and using ancestral ecological and cultural knowledge to grow foods through methods that nurture us and the earth. Restoring localized agriculture will bring jobs to rural Oregonians and enable more thoughtful management of our water and land resources to benefit Oregonians.
Climate Justice Requires Health, Education, Elections and Criminal Justice Reimagined
Given the ongoing injustices of environmental racism, and the worsening conditions brought on by escalating global crises, it is no surprise that communities of color and low income people suffer worse health outcomes from cradle to (early) grave. Mental healthcare, particularly, is severely neglected in our country and our state, leading to myriad social ills – violence, addiction, houselessness, and more. Healthcare should not be commodified and sold to the highest bidder. This systematically kills off and worsens the quality of life of vulnerable people, and given the disproportionate economic situation of people of color, expressly leads to the death of non-white people.
Attaining a quality education is requisite for the work of a restoring control over our institutions to the people. Not simply to obtain degrees but to obtain confidence in learning that can lead to a lifetime of inquisitive and thoughtful engagement in a deeply-democratic society. Our communities have a right to informed decision-making in all levels of policy. Such information should be freely accessible to those who wish to learn. Oregon’s students should face no barriers to schooling, and education in our state should be freely accessible to all who wish to obtain it.
Climate injustice has been possible for so long because of the ability of major corporations to purchase their desired policy outcomes from corrupt politicians and parties. Our votes should matter more than the dollars that fund political campaigns. If we are to take on and hold accountable the wealthiest individuals on the planet, we must safeguard our elections from their undue influence, make the franchise of voting as widely-accessible and painless as possible, make voter registrations automatic at every point of contact between voter and government, and ensure no economic, geographic, or social barriers exist to prevent voting.
Today, many students are pushed out of the classroom, and pipelined directly to criminal incarceration by a system that punishes black, brown and indigenous students at a much higher level than their white peers. The system fails to graduate these same students at equal rates to whites. Upon being over-disciplined and under-graduated, these students are far more likely to face contact with the carceral state (police, courts, jails and prisons). Many of the black, brown and indigenous people who fill Oregon’s jails are there under mandatory minimum sentences, or for minor non-violent crimes, or are denied their freedom simply because they cannot afford bail. The growing unrest in our society will inevitably lead to greater incarceration under the current system. A future of climate justice is one where all people are safe from the injustices of the prison industrial complex, protected from bias in enforcement of all rules and laws, and given the skills to be productive participants in a healthful society. The principles of restorative justice require we find a way to mediate harms and allow space for healing through building strong, interconnected community.
Climate Justice Requires Humility in the Face of Uncertainty
We don’t know what we don’t know. Many experts from frontline communities and within academia have offered many paths to a brighter, sustainable future. Getting there will require all of us to have deference to those who know better: those who experience problems must be the decision-makers about solutions. Those who most intimately understand problems must be able to support in this decision-making. Those whose ambitions do not align with frontline communities must defer. Support our leadership, in humble recognition of past traumas, historic imbalance of power and control, and to move from being mere allies toward being accomplices and co-conspirators in the project of dismantling oppressive systems.
Climate Justice Requires a Spiritual Awakening
Somewhere, we lost our way. We grew apart from our neighbors. We grew isolated from people in other cities. We entered into competition with other states. We grew resentful of other countries. To achieve climate justice, we must shift back toward a sense of shared respect for all things living and dead – a oneness with all people, animals, plants and elements. This is not mere spirituality. Such a shift restores a recognition that the complex relationships that operate among living things are threatened by the breakdown of ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, acidification of oceans, dying coral reefs and species eradication, deforestation, and more. This loss of life must be recognized, mourned, and we must mobilize to halt it. When we recognize our interconnectedness and witness the breakdown of our ecological harmony, we will be compelled with urgency to do what we know we must to save ourselves. Anything less is species suicide.