Guest blog post written by Page Atcheson
On January 25, Know Your City partnered with Renew Oregon to host “Building Oregon’s Climate Movement,” a community discussion on how efforts to reduce climate pollution can be strengthened and conducted with the input and leadership of diverse constituencies. Moderated by Maggie Tallmadge of the Coalition of Communities of Color, panelists included State Representative Lew Frederick; Mark Gamba, Mayor of Milwaukie; Barbara Byrd, Secretary-Treasurer of AFL-CIO; Nik Blosser, CEO of Celilo Group Media; Laura Stevens, Field Representative with the Sierra Club; and Mia Reback of 350 PDX. Needless to say, it was quite a powerful panel!
The discussion kicked off with the question of whether Oregon currently has a diverse and inclusive climate movement. All were in agreement that we have a lot of work to do for our movement to genuinely reflect the economic and racial diversity of our state — and it’s work that cannot be completed overnight. In fact, it might require rethinking how we engage people on these issues.
Rep. Frederick pointed out, if you live in a neighborhood with high asthma rates, and somebody knocks on your door to talk about polar bears, how are you going to respond? Climate advocates must move away from presenting the problem as something that’s in the future and affecting distant places. Our job is “to bring people in by understanding what their issues are,” said Rep. Frederick. This means listening to those who are concerned about losing their jobs because of climate policy, to farmers and ranchers who are feeling the impacts first-hand and to social justice movements who are advocating for other, often related and equally important, issues.
Reaching new people and constituencies is only the first step. We need to ensure these relationships develop in ways that are not transactional, but which instead enable us to collaborate effectively while supporting one another’s work. “We need to show up to Black Lives Matter without expecting something in return,” said Laura Stevens of the Sierra Club. And as Mia Rebeck of 350PDX pointed out, it’s a challenge to build these relationships, given limited time and capacity. “There’s a tension between sense of urgency to act on climate, and the slow work of building relationships, especially across movements.”
Despite the difficulties, we are starting to see these collaborations happening more in Oregon, thanks to the work of the Coalition of Communities of Color, Blue Green Alliance, and Renew Oregon among others. “We have to keep moving forward on things we do agree on,” said Barbara Byrd, after referring to various issues like coal export and timber that have at times divided environmentalists and labor. There was agreement among the panelists that we seem to be entering an exciting new phase of the climate movement in Oregon, with growing coalition work, and also the acknowledgement that climate change could present an opportunity to address other inequities, and help us achieve racial and economic justice.
Two concrete examples of how this coalition-building has resulted in tangible policy proposals can be seen this legislative session. First, the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition bill (HB 4036), which would transition the state off coal and double renewable energy. Second, the Healthy Climate Bill (SB 1574), which would enforce limits on carbon pollution and generate revenue for disadvantaged communities and a Just Transition Fund. Both of these proposals have had input from environmental groups, health advocates, communities of color, ratepayer advocates, labor, and businesses. They are a step forward in realizing our collective potential to craft policies that not only protect historically disadvantaged communities, but also provide benefit.. We still have a long way to go, but we are well positioned to approach climate change as an opportunity, and a challenge to all of us to work across movements to protect our state and its people.