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Oregon youth join global climate strike, call on governor to declare emergency

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Oregon youth join global climate strike, call on governor to declare emergency

Sep 14, 2023 | 4:25 pm ET
By Alex Baumhardt
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Oregon youth join global climate strike, call on governor to declare emergency
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Young people hold a climate strike at the Oregon State Capitol in September 2019, joining cities across the world. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Young people across the state are organizing to demand that Gov. Tina Kotek declare an emergency over climate change, with protests and marches Friday in five Oregon cities as part of action across the country and worldwide.

Youth from more than 20 environmental organizations are leading the action. They want local, state and federal officials to urgently adopt policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the worst effects of global warming. 

Fredrik Finney-Jordet, a 21-year-old Willamette University student who grew up in Bend, is organizing a march on City Hall in his hometown. He expects up to one thousand people to show up.

“We’ve made our point pretty well that climate science is very clear not only on the existence of the crisis, but the severity of the crisis,” he said. “The solution is climate action on every level.”

By declaring an emergency, organizers said, Kotek could direct state resources toward energy-efficient transportation and housing. They also want to end the development of new or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the Gas Transmission Northwest Express pipeline, or GTN Express, that’s awaiting federal approval to pump more natural gas from the Idaho-Canada border to southern Oregon. 

Kotek has voiced opposition to the project and urged federal regulators not to approve its expansion. She’s also declared a housing emergency and said that boosting the state’s mental health treatment network is a priority but she’s said little about climate change.

“The governor believes strongly in the need for Oregonians to do their part to fight climate change,” Elisabeth Shepard, a spokesperson for Kotek, said via email. “The governor is thankful for all of the youth activists who are committed to climate action.” 

Besides Bend, groups in Eugene, Florence, Portland and Salem will stage protests. Organizers include Divest Oregon, a statewide coalition focused on getting the state treasury to divest from fossil fuel holdings, and Breach Collective, a climate advocacy group based in Eugene.

Action in Oregon

Bend: 5 p.m. at City Hall, 710 N.W. Wall St.

Eugene: 1:15 p.m. at Eugene Station, 1080 Willamette St.

Florence: 2 p.m. at City Hall, 250 U.S. 101

Portland: 11 a.m. at City Hall, 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave.

Salem: 4 p.m. at the State Capitol, 900 Court St.

Organizers in each city have specific demands. In Bend, organizers want the City Council to implement a city-wide electrification plan. In Portland, protesters are demanding the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to deny a key air quality permit needed by Zenith Energy, a Texas fuel distributor attempting to expand its oil storage and rail delivery operations in Portland. 

“It would basically halt Zenith’s expansion in its tracks,” said Niomi Markel, an 18-year-old graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Portland, and is among those organizing the Portland event. 

Markel said she’s been participating in climate movements since middle school, after living through hotter summers, reading about deaths from recent heat waves and reading about the growing number of people losing their homes to wildfires. 

“I have a pretty shared experience with every other kid who’s grown up in Portland and in Oregon, having to shift our expectations of summer being a time of vacation and relaxation to this hugely stressful time where we’re hiding indoors from smoke and all that,” Markel said. 

“Climate change is not just some abstract future threat that politicians love to paint it as,” she added. “It’s a very real thing and it’s happening right now. It’s just going to get worse and this is what I’m gonna have to live with for the rest of my life.”

The Oregon protests are part of global events organized as an “international day of action” by the Fridays for Future movement, a youth-led initiative with members worldwide.

The movement began in 2018 when then 15-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg began a school strike and sat outside of Swedish Parliament every day to demand urgent action on climate change. 

On Sunday, organizers plan global protests  in a “weekend of action” leading up to the Climate Ambitions Summit that will be hosted by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres in New York on Wednesday. U.S. groups want President Joe Biden to end investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure and to declare a climate emergency.