On a day when President Trump's budget director called federal spending on climate change research a "waste of money," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called climate change the "most pressing issue globally."
"We are now the line of defense," Wheeler said at a Thursday evening Climate Action Town Hall at TaborSpace in Southeast Portland. "But I'm not going to settle for that. We are going to be the line of offense."
His talk, part of the "Let's Talk Climate" series co-sponsored by the Oregon Environmental Council and 350.PDX, showed the mayor has evolved on the issue. As state treasurer, he once angered environmentalists by downplaying the impact of divesting state holdings in fossil fuel stocks. And when he met with the Portland Tribune editorial board soon after taking office, Wheeler indicated climate change wouldn't be as big a concern for him as it was for former Mayor Charlie Hales.
But on Thursday, Wheeler won accolades for his animated speech before a crowd of activists concerned about climate change, revealing plans to release his own strategies for addressing the issue next month.
One of his initiatives will be to move the city towards a "100 percent renewable energy future" by 2050, he said. His plan also will promote more eco-roofs, said Nathan Howard, Wheeler's aide who has been working on the climate action strategy with an advisory group.
In response to an audience question, Wheeler said he opposes talk of the Portland Development Commission developing a parking garage in the Rose Quarter, conceived as a way to earn income to pay for its operations in the wake of declining urban renewal funding. "I want to be very clear, I do not support that strategy," Wheeler said to audience cheers. "I have other ideas for the PDC on how they can support their operations."
Michael Armstrong, the deputy director of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, laid out seven themes the city will continue to pursue as it works to reduce carbon emissions and carry out the city/county Climate Action Plan.
Those fall under the areas of land use and urban form, transportation systems, energy supply, building efficiency, reducing consumption, preparedness, and equity. The last one, he said, gazing at the nearly all-white audience, means the movement to address climate change must expand its current base. "The people who did the least to cause this problem are going to suffer the most, and that is unconscionable," Armstrong said.