For years, conversations around global warming have been volleying back and forth between dire predictions and outright denial. Most of the discussion has centered on scientific data and the economic impact of dealing with climate change. But the plea to protect our planet from the worst effects of rising temperatures has not fully resonated because most people have been overlooking an important human motivator: our own morality.
Until now. In May, Pope Francis took a stand and brought the climate change conversation to a new global level. In a 184-page encyclical, the Pope delivered a powerful critique on modern life. He addressed not only the fact that humans have contributed to the degradation of our planet but that we have a moral responsibility to our own and other species. He called for a sweeping “cultural revolution,” and among the many pages offered some guidance for every government, community, and individual. This call to action sparked a renewed energy to confront climate change and the enormous ecological, economic, and social imbalances that are root causes of the crisis.
Many cities across the globe are heeding this call and beginning to roll out plans to combat climate change at the local level. In fact, in the wake of the Pope’s statement, the Portland City Council and Multnomah County Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt the joint 2015 Climate Action Plan. This continues a 20-year legacy: Portland was the first city in the United States to create a plan for cutting carbon in 1993. Total carbon emissions in the U.S. have risen since the 1990s, but Portland’s emissions have actually declined by 14%, while its population has increased by almost a third.
The updated joint city-county plan is intended to strengthen the local effort to reduce carbon emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. This is the level experts feel is needed worldwide to prevent devastating climate disruption from global warming.
Issues of equity and justice, which have largely been missing from the global climate conversation as Pope Francis points out, are finally getting serious consideration. The city-county plan, which was developed with the help of an equity working group, reflects this. Along with minimizing fossil fuel use, the plan focuses on ensuring that all city and county residents benefit from climate action.
At the Sierra Club we know that ensuring a livable climate for everyone is the biggest challenge of our age. The Oregon Chapter is working to educate the public, mobilize communities, and support the growing and thriving climate movement, and there are many ways you can get involved:
- Find out what the joint city-county action plan means for Portland and Multnomah County at our Third Thursday event: Our Climate, Our Future: the Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan at 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club office.
- Hear what local faith leaders have to say about the moral implications of the climate crisis and how to build powerful coalitions at our Third Thursday event: Acting on Faith: The Moral Imperative of the Climate Crisis at 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club office.
- Support our Protect State Forests campaign. We are fighting to preserve the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests, which, as part of the Pacific Northwest temperate forest range, store much of the carbon on the planet.
- Find out about our new You CAN Corvallis training for youth climate activists to push the Corvallis City Council to pass a climate action plan with significant greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Leaders like Pope Francis remind us that we can better build resilient communities only when everyone is included. It’s the shared human responsibility as Carl Sagan wrote, “to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot.” Taking a moral stand in being good and decent to others and to our world is what is going to help us and other species survive.