This year, Portland’s mayor and City Council are struggling to reach a balanced budget. Lost revenue from a previously thriving tourism industry decimated by COVID-19 has been significant, and increasing property taxes to make up this deficit would further impact those hardest hit by the pandemic. This situation highlights our vulnerability to major disruption and dependence on the status quo to fund our city.

In response to COVID-19, we’ve put our lives on hold to ensure Portland’s long term success. Similarly, urgent, strategic action is necessary to stabilize our climate as we seek an equitable and predictable future, serving all Portlanders.

The City Council has acknowledged this fact repeatedly by funding the development of a comprehensive Climate Action Plan and unanimously supporting resolutions expressing the urgency of our climate and societal situation, acknowledging the growing urgency of the disparities exacerbated by it. Most of the work generated by such commitments, along with strategic approaches upholding them, has fallen on Troy Moon, Portland’s sustainability coordinator, Sustainability Associate Ashley Krulik, and Director of Innovation and Performance Management Lena Geraghty. Without this team, launching, maintaining, and honoring ordinances and resolutions will not happen, rendering them meaningless.

Ironically, Moon has been furloughed to half-time since April, and the city manager has now recommended eliminating the sustainability associate and director of innovation and performance management positions. With minimal pushback on his recommendation from the mayor or city council, there is a significant disconnect between the declarations of the council and the actions that should follow.

By resolution, Portland has committed to 100 percent carbon reduction targets and embraced renewable energy. The City Council declared a Climate Emergency acknowledging, “A climate emergency threatens our city, our region, our state, our nation, humanity, and the natural world.” Furthermore, Portland’s Plan 2030, “Ensures that all municipal decisions take into account the necessity of essentially eliminating CO2 emissions within 30 years.” This covers all decisions by the Planning and Development Department and the City Manager, including staffing . Lastly, the City Council has fully embraced a resolution establishing a Racial Equity Steering Committee. As is the case with COVID-19, where people of color are 27 percent more likely to contract the virus, people of color are disproportionately impacted by our rapidly changing climate. Impacts, including rising sea levels in low lying areas of Bayside and Kennedy Park, are intensified by inefficient office developments like the glass WEX building, which fuel carbon emissions.

Current staffing reductions have put our sustainability team four months behind. Cutting these positions further would slow progress towards our goals even more. Climate change will continue, but we can reduce its impact through persistent adaptation and mitigation. Investing in adaptation now will lead to significant savings later. Failing to adequately fund our sustainability office is the inverse of necessary action, further exposing our city to inequity and injustice and perpetuating a scenario where those least responsible for our climate crisis are hardest hit by it. This year’s budget discussions will focus on a just and equitable Portland. Still, there is nothing just or equitable about ignoring the avoidable future tragedy of the climate emergency.

A budget intended to serve all Portlanders should be built with the long-term vision expressed in the City Council’s ordinances, resolutions, and Climate Action Plan.

The tragic, ongoing, and largely preventable impacts of COVID-19 should serve as a lesson for the dangers, humanitarian and economic, of not acting to slow climate change. Although it’s certainly difficult to consider at this time, an unchecked changing climate will disrupt our lives, economy, and health, surpassing the disruption of COVID-19. Our City Council must rise to the challenge and use the COVID-19 experience as guidance for how to prepare Portland for future calamities. In order to be prepared, we must maintain these critical staff positions.

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