WED2013: Hales calls on state to divest fossil fuel holdings
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
Charlie Hales made the call for divestment as part of a speech that launched Portland's World Environment Day activities.
With the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute in town to mark World Environment Day, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales issued several calls for sustainability-related actions.
Primarily, Hales wants the state to divest itself of all fossil fuel holdings. And, he wants the city to begin implementing a 2012 resolution instructing the city to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources.
The divestiture call came after 350 PDX, the local chapter of the 350.org group that espouses sustainable and responsible investments, asked Hales and other leader to consider such a move. The group counts more than a dozen cities on its list of municipalities considering divesting fossil fuel holdings.
Here's the text of Hales' speech, delivered this morning, to launch the day's events.
Ladies and gentlemen. Portlanders and visitors. Welcome to the 2013 North American World Environment Day.
I want to welcome representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme.
When we welcome people to Portland, it’s good to remind them, and ourselves, that Portland is not here – in this exact spot – by accident. This spot drew civilization to it. This spot is the confluence of two great river systems: The mighty Columbia, which has a drainage basin roughly the size of France. And the Willamette River, one of the few northward-flowing rivers in the Northern Hemisphere, and home to some of the most amazingly fertile farmlands in all the world.
This spot is a confluence of rivers. And a confluence of civilizations. Indigenous peoples flowed into this region as early as 10,000 years ago. Not quite 200 years ago, Europeans began arriving here. Economically, Portland – and Oregon, and the Northwest – draw nearly as much influence from the Pacific Rim, and from Asia, as they do from Europe.
This is a confluence of time, as well. Portland is the event horizon between an agrarian history and the industrial revolution. Between shopkeepers and data-miners. Where we build big things, like barges and streetcars, and the smallest of things, like nano-technologies. This is where the silicon forest abuts old-growth forests.
A confluence of rivers. A confluence of time. And a confluence of purpose. One of the great lessons Portland has learned and shared has been the ideal that doing the right thing actually makes our lives a bit better. Here we do the right thing not simply because it’s right, but because it improves our quality of life.
Increasing our tree canopy allows us to breathe better. Composting lowers our garbage bill. Stormwater management on our streets makes our roads safer. It’s THIS notion that propels us into a boundless future aimed at raising our collective quality of life…and oh yeah, helping to protect our planet.
Portland is the place where, the lessons we learned as stewards of our environment in the 20th century, will guide our hands as stewards of the environment in the 21st century.
This city, and our most-unusual form of government, can and must help lead by example. As Mayor of Portland, I pledge that we will act locally and share globally, working with our City Council and our City Bureaus to take concrete steps that produce real and lasting results for our citizens and evidence-based research for our friends throughout the World.
National and international policy is catching up with science. And as it does, it becomes more practical and more cost-effective to begin to diversify our power and begin the journey away from reliance on fossil fuels. I want Portland not just to be ready, but to be at the forefront.
There are several steps we can take.
First, while I’m proud that our City holds no direct fossil fuel assets in our financial investment portfolio, it’s not enough.
The City must urge the Oregon State Treasurer, the Local Government Investment Pool and the Oregon Investment Council to divest of all state holdings in fossil fuel.
Why take this seemingly risky investment strategy? Because NOT doing it is the truly risky move.
The vast majority of fossil fuel assets are owned by 200 publicly traded companies. Eventually, these companies will burn through their entire reserves. We don’t know when that will happen, but by definition, we know that it must.
When that day comes, shares in these companies will lose most of their value. By divesting from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies, Portland can eliminate the risk to its own financial future. We must act before the carbon bubble bursts. And we must send the signal to the market that such investments are risky.
By acting locally, we can send a message to the world that investment in fossil fuels is a losing proposition, and that loosening our dependence on fossil fuels will increase our quality of life.
Second, I pledge that the City will begin implementation of the resolution passed last year instructing the City to buy 100 percent renewables. Likewise, we will work with our utility partners to reduce reliance on coal and natural gas to generate the electricity that serves all Portland residents and businesses. We can and will lead by example.
Third, the City must move forward aggressively on the city’s 2009 Climate Action Plan. The plan sets a goal of reducing emissions from City operations to 50 percent of 1990 levels, and doing so by the year 2030. This month, I issued a set of instructions and challenges to our City Council, and to our City Bureaus. One challenge calls for each bureau to further reduce its energy use by two percent each year. By pairing energy efficiency with renewable power, we will achieve our 50 percent carbon reduction goal for City operations. Again, we can and we will lead by example.
Each of these three will reduce our carbon footprint and increase our quality of life. But it’s still not enough. We here in Portland pride ourselves on our innovative transportation policies. Our emphasis on active transportation has been studied the world over- but that’s not why we’ve invested in it- active transportation is part of our high quality of life. And oh yeah, it’s a predominant piece of our carbon reduction strategy. I pledge that within 10 years, the bike will be the preferred mode of transportation for all trips under three miles in Portland. Talk about a marriage of doing the right thing and a high quality of life!
In order for that to become reality, we must take care of our infrastructure. By now most Portlanders have heard that I’m dedicated to repairing our streets- that whether you ride four wheels, two wheels or even one wheel, you need flat, smooth surfaces to roll on. As we’ve shown that our water and sewer-based infrastructure can be done more cost effectively when it’s done more environmentally, there is no reason that the caretaking of our transportation infrastructure can’t also be the caretaking of our planet. I pledge to you that I and the Council will identify new revenue that will allow us to turn every street in Portland into a Complete Street- a street with pervious surfaces, with stormwater collection, with street trees, and with sidewalks- within the next 20 years.
Each of these steps- divestment from fossil fuels and reliance on renewable energy, reducing City government’s carbon footprint, reaching new active transportation highs and building our infrastructure in smart ways, will increase the quality of life of our citizenry. And it will make Portland more resilient.
Think about that word for a moment. It’s from the Latin. It means to Spring Back. To Spring Back into Shape.
Portland, and Oregon, and the Northwest, and the world, have been struggling for too long to Spring Back Into Shape, following the Great Recession and long, slow, jobless recovery. But we have learned some great lessons as our economy springs back. Now we must take those lessons and apply them to this confluence of time.
I am proud to announce that, in August of this year, Portland will apply to the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge.
The Challenge is a competition designed to help prepare cities for catastrophic events, like Super Storm Sandy, or the devastating tornado we recently witnessed in Oklahoma. Or “The Big One” – the mega-quake that scientists warn us have assailed this sector of the globe throughout eons. And will again.
With more than 75 percent of people expected to be living in cities by 2050, and with 730,000 people expected to be living in Portland by 2030, it’s no longer a “what if” question but a question of “when.”
I will direct Portland City bureaus to combine efforts and apply to the Rockefeller Foundation to compete for membership in the worldwide 100 Resilient Cities Network, which comes with it support for hiring a Chief Resiliency Office and resources to create and implement a resilience plan.
By applying for the Rockefeller Challenge, Portland will not only benefit, we’ll be able to share our experience and expertise with our friends throughout the world while learning other best practices and innovations.
Sharing globally and implementing locally. By embracing this philosophy, through global communication and citywide action, we will all be better equipped to emerge even stronger through the face of catastrophe.
This is not really anything new for Portland. Whether it’s through our pioneering work in green infrastructure, or in climate preparedness, Portland has long been an incubator for environmental policy. Not only can that not stop, but we must redouble our efforts to lead this work into the future, sharing our grand experiments with the world.
Take the confluence of these two great rivers, the Willamette and the Columbia.
In 2004, the Portland Park System became the first Salmon-Safe certified system in the nation. Let me repeat that: The first such system in the nation, signifying our success and dedication in reducing impacts on water quality and fish habitat from park operation and maintenance.
Last year, our Parks Bureau won recertification from the Salmon-Safe program. We are proud of that. But it’s not enough.
As another challenge to our City Council and City Bureaus, I have asked that EACH service-delivery bureau in the city seek and achieve Salmon-Safe certification within the next two years.
I ask each service-delivery bureau to work with the Salmon-Safe team to evaluate their impact on habitat and water quality. Through determination and collaboration, our City can ensure that every practice we take is done with the least amount of harm to our natural environment, and by doing so, an uptick in the quality of our lives. And as we implement this locally, we will gladly share the results globally, through our friends in the United Nations Environment Programme.
Portland is a proud member of the Intertwine Alliance. That is a coalition of 80 organizations sharing a common interest in improving health, creating jobs, reducing costs, expanding transportation networks, fostering learning and keeping our air and water clean.
The Intertwine has issued a challenge to residents and regional leaders alike. As Mayor, I accept the Intertwine Challenge.
Portland will work to increase the percentage of storm water managed through green infrastructure.
Portland will work to find a permanent funding source to protect our natural area investments.
And Portland will continue to invest in our plan to increase our tree canopy.
Our City will lead by example and I, in turn, challenge our residents, our regional partners, and the rest of the world to live and act with these goals in mind. And to work even harder with your citizens to demonstrate that doing the right thing isn’t asking them to take cod liver oil- it’s asking them to do things they want to do- things that make their daily lives just a bit better.
More than anything, though, on this World Environment Day, in THIS confluence of time, I want to talk about the thread that knits together the fabric that is Portland. It’s not unique to us. It binds most towns, cities, states and countries together.
I stand before you this morning with two responsibilities to our rivers. One is to clean them up. But again, I’m not unique in that. Mayors before me, and governors, and the state and federal governments, have put their shoulders to the wheel, and have worked for clean rivers.
Hard work has come before, and more hard work is needed now. We are just at the starting point of cleaning up our crown jewel. I’m honored to begin that clean up immediately and vociferously.
But as mayor, my second responsibility is helping to guide the vision of what our rivers WILL BE.
It’s not enough to stand before you proclaiming that we will have clean rivers. We will, and soon.
What is critical is what we do with those rivers.
What we do to keep them clean.
What we do to bring our fish back.
What we do to connect our people back to them.
What we do to safely and responsibly create access to them.
And most importantly, what we do to embody the spirit and wisdom of our First People, to steward these rivers for our future generations.
We can’t wait for years of planning and vision. We must incorporate the plans and visions that came before us.
These questions can’t wait for the rivers to be clean.
These are the questions that I will work with our City Council, our citizens, our partners, and our friends around the world to answer … and to implement.
We WILL restore the prominence of our rivers into the fabric of our everyday lives and we will do so responsibly.
We have to. We stand at the confluence of two great rivers, the confluence many great societies and economies, and the confluence of time.
The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius said time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current. No sooner is a thing brought to sight, he said, than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.
These are OUR rivers. This is OUR time.
Thank you to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Thank you to our many visitors.
And welcome to the 2013 North American World Environment Day.
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