Policy Statement #4 – July 15, 2019
Climate change is upon us as we witness strange weather events, changes in habitat, and the rapid loss of polar ice, glaciers, and coastal communities. Olympia faces tidal flooding, winter river floods, respiratory diseases, invasive plants, animals and microbes, and an influx of climate refugees. Wildfires, ocean acidification, species migration, flooding and drought threaten our way of life, our economy, and our prospects for the future.
A vacuum of leadership at the federal level has shifted the burden of action onto state and local governments. And it is within that context that I am proud to have led local efforts for climate action within Thurston County. Recently Olympia, Tumwater, Lacey, and Thurston County adopted common goals for carbon emission reductions. There is power in working together to turn back growing carbon pollution in our communities.
Many required changes are outside of our city’s direct control, yet it is time for a bold pragmatic response that cannot stop at our city limits. As a member of Olympia’s City Council I have joined with others to help Puget Sound Energy shut down the coal plants that supply our electricity. We have begun the transition to renewable power. Last year I helped the State Investment Board scrutinize their fossil fuel holdings, working to protect state pensions by moving our public dollars out of risky carbon investments. I worked with our state legislature to protect the safety of our communities and our waterways. As a result, there are now safer, updated regulatory protections required on the pipelines, trains, and barges that transport oil and coal throughout our state, including terminals on Puget Sound and on the Columbia River. In each of these responses it has been my role to bring together other local officials from across our region and state to collectively address and implement solutions that work for all residents. For each of us and for our collective future, the risks of inaction are far too great.
Our city’s low-lying downtown is directly threatened by any elevation of sea level. For this reason, we will experience the impacts of climate disruption sooner than other communities in our region. The Sea Level Rise Response Plan, published in March of 2019, describes in detail how sea level rise will impact our community and provides our city with choices and timelines to effectively respond to predicted changes in sea level. However, the plan is powerless without the willingness of our leadership to secure essential financing and lead the regulatory changes, while continually adjusting to changes in the threat assessment. Simply stated, we have a blueprint for what we need to do as a city to preserve our downtown in the face of sea level rise, but we need the steady leadership to take these essential steps.
Over my many years of engagement on climate issues in our region, I have seen gradual progress, but I also recognize the need for Olympia to lead a more coordinated and engaged response. As a region, we have many tools already in place. We have extensive risk assessments, a variety of response strategies, and a growing understanding within our community of the need for a coordinated response to climate impacts.
What is needed now is leadership forward. As a city we need to identify and prioritize our steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and then move promptly to implement those steps with frequent opportunities to adjust to new climate risks as they are identified. As residents of a caring and responsive city, we must collectively modify our behaviors and choices to respond effectively to our changing environment. This is not something to be studied and implemented later. Climate disruption is impacting our lives, our city and our planet. The time for leadership and action is now.
While climate impacts demand a coordinated, informed response, experienced leadership and collective action it does not have to result in a reduction in the quality of life we all value in Olympia. We in Olympia are interested in building the clean energy economy that will serve far into the future. Olympia has the capacity to be part of an expanding energy industry that will serve as a model for other communities, a transition equivalent to the advent of the information age or the industrial revolution. With steady leadership and a collective will to adopt needed changes, our city can create good, rewarding jobs while we expand our economy through intelligent buildings, smart transportation, a new power grid, and renewable energy development. We can join other farsighted cities and communities in our region and world to implement the changes that will effectively respond to the changing climate, lift our livelihood and solidify our city’s place at the forefront of a healthy future.