Learn more about the Climate Smart Strategy
Climate change refers to the long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns caused by both natural cycles and human activity. Major climate studies have shown that the changes are stronger and are happening more rapidly due to the burning of fossil fuels, which generates greenhouse gas emissions that trap the sun’s heat.
The Climate Smart Strategy is a shared vision for how to maintain healthy and equitable communities for years to come as the region attempts to mitigate harmful effects of climate change.
Metro is currently in the process of updating the Regional Transportation Plan. The 2023 update will also update the greater Portland region’s Climate Smart Strategy, which sets policies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Transportation, the ways people and goods get around, is Oregon’s largest contributor to emissions.
Many young people think the issue is more urgent than ever.
“There's nothing I can do except fight for my future”
“I think this is the fight of my life and the fight for my generation. I wish I had taken it more seriously sooner,” said Liam Castles, 18, the policy lead for Portland Youth Climate Strike and organizer for the Sunrise Movement PDX's campaign fighting for a rapid and just decarbonization of the state’s transportation system.
Adolescence is hard enough. Many young people around the world feel increased anxiety and distress as rapid environmental changes and weather-related disasters become the norm. They feel extremely vulnerable yet have almost no institutional power to prevent the looming harm created by climate change.
A survey of 10,000 children and young people (16 to 25 years old) from 10 countries found that 84% were at least ‘moderately worried’ about climate change, and 59% were ‘very or extremely worried.’ Published in December 2021, the study found nearly half of respondents said feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life and functioning.
“When youth start talking with adults [about solutions to climate change], I think we’re often looked down on as not having the policy knowledge or the experience,” said Castles. “And I would argue, often, it’s the opposite. I know for me, stress around the climate crisis has made me do more research, and, as a result, I know more about the climate crisis than almost every adult I know outside of the climate movement because it’s what I’m doing every day ... It has to be my life because it will be my life, and there’s nothing I can do except fight for my future.”
Samuel Butler, 19, was one of the 24 members of Clackamas County’s Youth Advisory Task Force during his senior year at Sandy High School. The task force met monthly throughout 2021 to discuss climate issues and make recommendations for Clackamas County’s climate action plan. Members learned about climate science and the urgent need for a transportation system that has reliable public transportation and is easily walkable and bikeable.
“Tackling climate change requires restructuring society a lot,” Butler said. He also understands the tension some people feel on these topics. He said that many people see the problems with communities built around cars that release greenhouse gases, but he acknowledged that policy change can be a hard sell. “Even if people believe in climate change, they don’t want their life to be negatively disrupted,” he said.
Butler has cared deeply about climate change for a few years. He said recent extreme weather events were real-life illustrations of the negative impacts he would like to mitigate through his involvement in climate action.
“We’ve seen droughts all over the United States, flooding. Even here in Oregon, we’ve had crazy heat waves and fires. Those definitely affected my life,” Butler said. “So doing our best to make Clackamas County contribute towards less emissions and, therefore, less climate change is definitely something I want to do while I’m living here.”
Taylor Walker, 16, a student at Sunset High School, began paying attention to climate change in middle school. In her freshman year, she started organizing with Sunrise Movement in both Beaverton and Portland.
Walker’s tipping point before getting active was Oregon’s Labor Day fires in 2020, which occurred while many were still quarantining due to COVID-19. “We were literally stuck in our homes. We couldn’t even go for a walk or anything. And I felt… so trapped,” Walker said. “That really scared me.” From that point on, she felt obligated to get involved. “I don’t want to just sit and let it happen,” she said.
Adah Crandall, 16, is the co-lead of Portland Youth Climate Strike and is set to graduate soon from Grant High School. Her climate activism journey began when she attended Tubman Middle School in North Portland where she learned about the impact of diesel pollution on the school’s neighborhood from Interstate 5 emissions. She and her friends created an environmental justice club to advocate against a proposed expansion of the freeway.
Crandall said her climate education at Tubman revealed to her what she called a “symptom of a much larger issue of a transportation system that prioritizes profit over people.”
“We have been working to bring transportation, among other things, to the forefront of the climate conversation in Portland,” Crandall said.
Although these campaigns may feel oppositional to some, Crandall said they are working to present a future that’s better for everyone. “A future where the bus comes every five minutes and streets are safe for little kids to bike and walk to school and where you don’t need a driver’s license as a ticket to freedom – that system is possible if people were willing to take the leap and accept it as possible,” Crandall said.
“We can change the narrative, and we can change the system”
Although the climate crisis is complex, there are steps that can be taken right now to protect people, their livelihoods, the environment and infrastructure.
“The science is pretty unequivocally definitive about the next steps,” said Castles.
All four youth emphasized the need to shift away from a car-centric transportation system to help Oregon limit the effects of climate change. To them, that means investing in adequate walking and biking infrastructure and strengthening public transit.
“As a people, as a community, as a society, we need to have a system that works for everyone … It needs to be something that is going to be consistent and regular and is fair and equitable,” said Castles.
The activists believe that achieving climate goals will take more than replacing gas-powered vehicles on the road with electric vehicles.
“Whether you’re using gas or electricity, you’re still using an enormous amount of energy,” Castles said.
The youth involved with Portland Youth Climate Strike believe it starts with direct action to educate and motivate change.
“Our political system is not set up to do that in an instant,” Castles said. "But what we can do is we can change the narrative, and we can change the system.”
During a traffic and transportation class at Portland State University, Crandall and her classmates each came up with a transportation project proposal at the end of the term. Her project was focused on teaching students how to use public transit.
“We have drivers ed, right? And people get their driver’s license as this ticket to independence, but we have no resource to teach people how to effectively utilize our transit system and teach people that that can be a way to freedom,” she said.
People of all ages “need to work together to solve this issue.”
One of the findings in the study about youth climate anxiety was that youth’s unease about climate change is intensified by the perceived indifference of adults and governments who do not act with the same urgency.
It brings up feelings of confusion, betrayal and abandonment. This ongoing psychological stress could add strain to intergenerational relationships.
The activists opened up about their experiences and challenges talking to adults outside the climate movement about climate change.
“When you lack that urgency, you lack the interest in staying educated on what’s happening with climate change and what real solutions are,” Castles said.
Walker described her frustration with other generations passing on the responsibility to youth.
“It’s definitely hard having these conversations, especially with family members because you love them a lot, and it can get very frustrating,” she said. “Mainly, the thing that frustrates me is when adults say, ‘Oh you guys are going to change our world. You’re going to save everything.’ But what they don’t realize is they have the most power right now to change things ... The whole world needs to work together to solve this issue.”