The Tacoma City Council and Puyallup Tribal Council declared climate emergency in Tacoma on December 10. The city joins more than a thousand municipalities in doing so worldwide.

The resolution recognizes climate change as an immediate threat, and seeks to mobilize a city-wide transition to a carbon neutral-economy. Among the first steps is to update Tacoma’s Environmental Action Plan (EAP) by April 22, 2021 to “outline a pathway to reaching the City’s carbon reduction goals by 2050.”

The resolution also mentions:

  • Prioritizing “equity and social justice” through the EAP
  • Creating an Environmental Justice Leadership Workgroup to represent those “most burdened by environmental impacts.”
  • Including a green economy in the EAP to assist in sustainability actions; “attract and retain carbon-neutral and climate friendly businesses, increase the number of living wage jobs, and provide a just transition for the workforce…”

Tacoma joins Austin, Los Angeles, New York City, San Jose, and Minneapolis as major U.S. cities to declare climate emergency.

Check out our weekly “Hopeful Headlines” series for examples of communities, businesses and governments taking serious climate action.

What does climate emergency mean?

According to The Climate Mobilization, a New York-based advocacy group, the climate crisis calls for WWII-scale action and “entering emergency mode is the critical first step to launching the comprehensive mobilization required to rescue and rebuild civilization.” The group was founded in 2014, but didn’t entice many emergency declarations early on. Thanks in part to global youth activism, 2019 saw a surge of emergency declarations. Currently 1,255 local governments that represent over 798 million people in 25 countries have signed on.

According the group, the strategic priorities for local campaigns include:

  1. Pass declarations of Climate Emergency with commitment to reach zero emissions and begin carbon drawdown at emergency speed (10 years or less).
  2. Local elected leaders become advocates for emergency Climate Mobilization to the public, to other cities, and to state and national gov’ts. 
  3. Develop and implement mobilization policy locally, after declaration is passed. 

In How to explain emergency mode climate action, an Australian think tank called Break Through argues that emergency action is the “only response that can fully address the scale and speed of the crisis.”

An emergency declaration shows that the government rates the problem as very serious, that priority will be given to resolving the crisis, that we are all in the crisis together and that, officially “business as usual” and “reform as usual” no longer apply.

David Spratt in How to explain emergency mode climate action

The document also references WWII-era mobilization efforts – namely the United States converting its economy from the largest producer of consumer good to the largest producer of military goods in a single year – to show that rapid change is possible (and perhaps more likely to occur) in emergency conditions.

Should Seattle follow suit?

In five words: I don’t see why not. By passing the Green New Deal, Seattle already adopted some of the most ambitious climate goals in the country. Declaring climate emergency wouldn’t necessarily mean adding to those goals; but it would provide the appropriate context in which to achieve current ones.

By passing the Green New Deal, the Seattle City Council recognized the urgency of the climate crisis. Why not put a label on it? Specifically, the label 11,000+ scientists agree on. Declaring climate emergency would validate the concerns of the voters that put the council members in office. It would also explain to those wondering why Seattle is taking such aggressive climate action.

Seattle has already done the hard part in adopting the Green New Deal. Now, it’s time for the council to call a spade a spade and take itself seriously.

Feature photo: The Tacoma Museum of Glass, Photo by RC Victorino on Unsplash.