Island County commissioners have taken their first major step toward creating and implementing climate change mitigation policy, but not all Whidbey residents are satisfied with the action.
Whidbey climate activists, including members of youth climate coalition United Student Leaders, said the resolution passed by county commissioners Tuesday lacks the strength and urgency necessary to preserve the island amid rising global temperatures.
The Board of Commissioners first directed county staff to prepare a draft climate resolution and climate action plan in May, using the United Student Leaders’ proposed emergency declaration as a source. However, the county’s final version of the resolution does not include language that youth activists consider indispensable — the actual declaration of an emergency.
A meeting of the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday drew nearly an hour of public comments from youth and other activists, urging commissioners to revise the resolution to include an emergency declaration.
United Student Leaders co-founder, Langley resident Maggie Nattress, pointed out that thousands of other municipalities in countries across the world have taken the step to declare a climate emergency.
“I think it’s very important that we continue to use this wording to pull those different counties, different countries, different jurisdictions together under the same goal,” Nattress said.
The youth organization also encouraged the commissioners to retain language in their resolution that would recognize the intersectionality of the climate crisis and the importance of equity in the county’s response.
“The climate crisis affects a lot of marginalized communities in disproportionate ways,” said United Student Leaders member Jackson Murphy.
Commissioner Janet St. Clair suggested adding verbiage to declare a climate crisis, but Commissioners Melanie Bacon and Jill Johnson did not support the idea.
Johnson said the current draft resolution was as far as she was willing to go, stating that she doesn’t have the luxuries of being an activist or adhering to a single agenda.
“I don’t think there’s broad enough buy-in for some of the activism statements that are in here,” she said.
She also encouraged public commenters to consider what behavioral changes they were willing to make.
“I maybe would ask every youth, are you committed to not having children? To not overpopulating the planet? To not getting on an airplane? To not driving to work? How many changes are you personally going to make?” she said.
Johnson added that changing the language in the resolution would not ultimately affect the county’s planned next step of creating a climate action plan with concrete actions for the county to take.
Bacon said she would only support a resolution in concert with her two fellow commissioners, because addressing climate change is too big a task to be done one-sidedly. She assured public commenters that the county’s resolution is only a first step and will be followed by actionable items in the forthcoming climate action plan.
“I am not a person about rhetoric. I am about action,” she said.
The commissioners ultimately adopted a change to the resolution solidifying their commitment to equitable climate solutions but left out an emergency or crisis declaration. The resolution passed unanimously.
United Student Leaders criticized the commissioners’ rationale for omitting the emergency declaration from the resolution as overly political. In a joint statement, Nattress and co-founder Annie Philp said Johnson’s question as to whether the youth present at the meeting would commit to not having children was “disturbing.”
“Youth leaders are very aware of the personal changes necessary to combat the climate crisis, but we’re appalled that this talking point was used to discount important legislation that needs to be passed,” they wrote.