by Dylan Plummer, CW Grassroots Organizer
Originally published in The Register-Guard, April 24, 2021.
Less than a month into spring, I received a red flag warning alert. A warm easterly wind was blowing on an 80-degree day, kicking up dust from the Willamette Valley’s parched fields and forests, creating perfect fire conditions — months ahead of our traditional wildfire season. Last year’s historic Labor Day wildfires serve as a stark reminder longer and more unpredictable wildfire seasons will be the new normal under a changing climate, and Black, Indigenous and people of color and low-income communities will be disproportionately impacted.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
With concerted investments at all levels of government, we can mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis and build resilient, equitable communities in the process. From transitioning the city of Eugene off fossil fuels, to passing the Green New Deal federally, we need an all-of-the-above strategy to prevent climate catastrophe.
While Western Oregon is 3,000 miles from the halls of power in D.C., our district has a unique opportunity to set priorities for desperately needed climate legislation at the federal level — Biden’s infrastructure package. Our own Rep. Peter DeFazio is tasked with writing this pivotal legislation, making our district ground zero to ensure that it’s big and bold enough to meet the scale of the challenge. Biden’s $2 trillion proposal is currently not enough to adequately transform our energy system and economy, but an opportunity for the congressman to lead the charge to a more sustainable and equitable society remains.
The legislation must prioritize massive investments in renewable energy, climate resilience, natural carbon sequestration and mass transit, all while creating good paying union jobs. Here in Oregon and across the West, we need housing subsidies to retrofit homes and communities to be more resilient to wildfire and for towns and cities to create greater emergency preparedness and evacuation protocol. A fully funded Climate Conservation Corps could do the critical work protecting and restoring our public forests, which are some of the most effective natural climate solutions in the world, while putting millions to work with good paying union jobs. Corps members could be put to work burying the power and transmission lines that spark catastrophic wildfires and protecting and expanding the forest-carbon stores on our public lands.
It is likewise important that DeFazio’s bill not prop up polluting industries and false solutions. The fracked gas and logging industries are using all manner of misdirection to confuse elected officials into thinking their activities are sustainable, while in fact they are leaving a legacy of harm to human health, forests and the climate. It should go without saying that new subsidies to the very industries that got us into this mess are not the solution.
With summer rapidly approaching, and much of Oregon facing extreme fire danger and drought conditions, it’s hard to be optimistic. Yet, we must push forward and demand the policies we know we need. If DeFazio can muster the will to take the climate crisis seriously and draft an infrastructure bill up to the scale of the challenge, he can leave a legacy with a global impact and transform this country into a livable place for all.
Dylan Plummer, Grassroots Organizer for Cascadia Wildlands.
His column appears in the Register-Guard on the fourth Saturday of the month.