Climate change is having a significant impact on Oregon. The state’s weather is getting warmer, wildfires are more common and the now erratic nature of the seasons means that there’s less snowpack and lower summer stream flows.

In 2018, the increased dryness led to an emergency drought declaration in 11 Oregon counties.  Ranchers across the Southern and Eastern regions reported significant economic losses as a result of the lack of water. The number of wildfires across the western region in the same year led to some of the worst air quality Portland and Willamette Valley have ever seen.

According to the Oregon Climate Assessment Report of 2019, these conditions are now the norm. Some of the predictions made by the report include the following:

  • A 3.3 feet sea level rise by 2100 will put coastal communities in Oregon at risk.
  • Oregon is expected to get 4-9°F warmer by 2100 depending on the trajectory of global emissions over the next few decades.
  • Annual precipitation may not change a lot in the coming years, but there will be more rain instead of snow.
  • Eastern Oregon will see a possible 20% increase in extreme precipitation events in the coming years. The heavy rainfall would lead to landslides, slope instability, and disruptions to mobility.
  • The number of days with temperatures higher than 86°F in parts of Oregon, outside the coastal regions and cooler mountains, will increase by 30 days per year by 2050.

Reports such as the above are the spur needed by the Oregon state government and the residents to continue some of the climate-change-related actions they have taken thus far and do better where necessary. This article will look at five things that are happening in the state, showing its commitment to combating climate change.

Eugene’s Climate and Energy Action Plan

The Eugene City Climate Recovery Ordinance (CRO) | Source: engage.eugene-or.gov/sustainability

The City of Eugene launched its first climate and energy action plan in 2010. Dubbed the Eugene Community Climate and Energy Action Plan, it had the following main goals:

  • A 50% reduction in community-wide fossil fuel use by 2030.
  • The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below the 1990 levels by 2020.
  • The identification of strategies that can help the community to adapt to a changing climate and rising fossil fuel prices.

To accomplish these goals, the action plan mapped out the following key action areas:

  • Buildings and Energy: the plan highlighted recommendations to ensure a reduction in energy use across existing buildings and new projects.
  • Food and agriculture: this action area focused on solutions that will help reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products and also cut down agriculture-related greenhouse emissions. It also included a plan to grow more locally-produced foods and protect the regional farmlands.
  • Urban natural resources: This section contained recommendations designed to help the city to manage trees, land, water, and other resources better.
  • Land use and transportation: the focus of this action area was on encouraging bike and electric vehicle use, as well as making the city more pedestrian-friendly.
  • Consumption and Waste: This section included recommendations on improving composting and recycling and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Health and Social Services: This section contained recommendations for preparing health and social systems for a climate-change world.

In 2019, the city launched the Climate Action Plan 2.0 which it says will be an update to the 2010 plan. However, there are no detailed reports on the efficacy of the original plan or the level of adherence to the recommendations. Advocates will expect better monitoring of the new action plan when it goes into effect.

Portland’s Greener Alternative to Demolition

Demolishing Portland: A Gallery of Lost History

In 2016, Portland became the first city in the US to ban demolition of homes built before 1916. Instead of demolition, these homes will now be deconstructed. With this greener alternative, the materials inside the properties can be salvaged. The environmental impact of deconstruction and reusing materials can be likened to removing two fossil fuel vehicles from the road.

Deconstruction will reduce the waste in landfills, reduce air pollution, and cut down on the release of toxic materials like lead and asbestos, helping the city to go closer to meeting its carbon reduction targets.

Business Leaders Take a Stand

The number of companies in support of the Oregon Business Climate Declaration has reached over 100, including some big names like Adidas, Airbnb, eBay, Lyft, Nike, and Intel Corporation.

In 2013, 33 companies came together to sign the Oregon Business Climate Declaration which was drafted by the Ceres BICEP Network. The declaration was a call to action reminding policymakers and the general public of the need to take more action regarding climate change.  The number of companies in support of the declaration has since reached over 100, including some big names like Adidas, Airbnb, eBay, Lyft, Nike, Intel Corporation, and more.

In 2017, another group of Oregon businesses came together to form the Oregon Business Alliance For Climate. The group, made up of 27 founding members, is focused on mobilizing industry support to enforce a price on carbon emissions in the state. Some of the signatories to the alliance include Willamette Valley Vineyards, Neil Kelly Company, Umpqua Bank, Skanska, Widmer Brewing, and New Seasons Market.

Milwaukie Declares a Climate Emergency

Under Mayor Gamba's watch, Milwaukie became the first city in the state of Oregon to declare a climate emergency.

In January 2020, Milwaukie became the first city in Oregon to declare a climate emergency. The resolution will allow the city to bring up its timeline for achieving the goals set in its Climate Action Plan by five years. Here are other things the resolution will help to achieve:

  • Ensuring that the city becomes carbon neutral by 2045.
  • Ensuring an update to the action plan every three years to ensure greenhouse gas reduction strategies are up to date.
  • More education for the residents on how to contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

With the resolution, Milwaukie joined 1,300 cities across the world in 26 countries who have already declared a climate emergency.

Governor Kate Brown's Bold Climate Action

Inflatable Pipeline prop in Eugene, Oregon. 350Eugene mobilized the creative imagery joining with people across the state to call on the governor to take concrete action to halt the proposed LNG pipeline and export facility in Jordan Cove. Photo credit: 350Eugene, Don Ewing.

Although various cities across Oregon are taking action in their own ways to fight climate change, the state’s legislature has failed to pass comprehensive statewide climate change guidelines. Following their repeated failure, Governor Kate Brown stepped in to deliver EO 20-04—one of the strongest Executive Orders on climate change in the US today. Its key elements include the following:

  • Directing the establishment of regulations and programs to reduce emissions from major sources
  • Setting new, stronger goals for cutting climate pollution
  • Encouraging more super-efficient buildings
  • Accelerating electric vehicle adoption
  • Maximizing the energy efficiency of appliances
  • Centering equity in climate programs and policies
  • Prioritizing climate action across all state agencies
  • Strengthening Clean Fuels Program to make it the most ambitious in the country

The Governor’s actions are the result of several years of climate advocacy by thousands of Oregon residents which has seen lots of rallies, petitions, and hours or countless calls to the Governor’s office.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that the Oregon residents are doing their part to push for more climate change action. It remains to be seen if the policymakers will follow Governor Kate Brown’s footsteps to take more drastic action in this fight. A group of youngsters recently tried to push the state to do more by filing a lawsuit in 2015 that will force the government to draw up a fossil fuel elimination plan.

The lawsuit was unsuccessful as the court ruled that this is a policy decision for the executive and legislative branches. However, such bold actions by Oregon’s residents and the enthusiasm that has been displayed in the fight against climate change are necessary if the state is to hit the lofty goals set by various cities. It was also one of the driving forces behind the Governor’s Executive Order and a clear reminder of how anyone can contribute to efforts to combat climate change.

Augurisk is a risk assessment platform for Climate change, Natural Hazards and Societal Risks. We help people and businesses assess climate risks associated with their properties, so they can better prepare for the future.