Although they deferred action on several items, Portland city councilors unanimously backed a resolution on climate change that was supported by a large contingent of young people who spoke out at a meeting on Monday.
They passed a resolution declaring a climate emergency, with a demand that the state and federal government end greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. South Portland passed a similar resolution in October.
Councilors also placed an amendment to the City Charter on the March 3, 2020, ballot that would extend ranked-choice voting to City Council and School Board elections. Ranked choice has been used to elect the city’s mayor since 2011.
Public comment on recommended policy goals for a new shelter took up the bulk of the more than five-hour meeting, but the council deferred action on that until Dec. 16. It also postponed discussion of a proposed ban on facial recognition software until Jan. 6, 2020.
Many young people and the occasional adult who spoke in support of the climate resolution were carrying on the momentum of the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, which drew approximately 2,000 people to City Hall.
“We are here on school nights, on study nights or work nights; it’s late monday evening and I have to get up early to go to school tomorrow, but this is so important,” said Anna Siegel, 13, of Yarmouth, representing US Youth Climate Strikes. “You will be voting on the emergency resolution and on my future.”
Cassie Cain of Saco said youth and marginalized communities are most at risk of a “climate catastrophe that many folks currently in positions of power will not have the deal with because of their age or privilege.”
Others mentioned the threats associated with the rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine and sea-level rise, which puts Portland on the front lines of the crisis.
The 2030 timeline derives from an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stating that the earth’s average temperature is likely to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current rate, producing increased “climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.”
One speaker opposed the resolution for not going far enough. George Rheault called the resolution “hollow and empty” because it doesn’t address other forces driving increased emissions in the city.
“We celebrate rising number cruise ship passengers, which is one of the most carbon intensive ways of traveling … all those people are getting on and off planes,” Rheault said. “We just had the the Maine Turnpike triumphantly announce they’re expanding 12 miles of highway … and it’s going to dramatically increase how much fossil fuel gets generated and spewed out of this region.
“This is the economy and your resolution says nothing about these things,” he said, “and yet somehow by 2030 we’re going to get some of this fixed.”
Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who chairs the Sustainability and Transportation Committee and sponsored the resolution, said he is confident the resolution will be effective.
“How empty is a municipal solar farm? How empty is changing all of your streetlights to LED? How empty is trying to derive 70 percent of our energy from renewable resources?” Thibodeau said. “For me this is not empty. It is the ground floor of many floors… We are setting a road map to get us there.”
Councilor Belinda Ray said councilors are not sure the goal can be met, “but we felt it was important to set the goal. It is important to declare this a crisis and respond accordingly. I thank the youth who have brought this forward for holding us accountable and asking us to act more quickly.”
The resolution passed unanimously, with Councilor Kimberly Cook absent.