June 26, 2018
By Sarah McCullough & Garak Ward
Some of the YouCAN Leadership Team after an interview with the Gazette Times.
Who We Are
When the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement almost exactly a year ago, federal climate action came to a halt. But this doesn’t mean that every government in America has given up the fight; many states and cities, including Oregon, have passed their own climate laws and are committed to meeting the science-backed goals laid out by the Paris Agreement.
Corvallis is one such city and its chapter of Youth Climate Action Now (YouCAN) is a group of young people dedicated to making sure that their city can live up to its promises. YouCAN Corvallis was formed in partnership with the Oregon Sierra Club and Our Children’s Trust. Our mission is twofold: to increase climate literacy in our community and to put forward a climate ordinance to our local government. Composed primarily of middle and high school students, much of our YouCAN fire comes from youth, but it wouldn’t be possible without our fantastic adult supporters. I can speak personally when I say that the adults involved in the YouCAN campaign have really given young people一myself included一an avenue to voice our concerns in a way that has a real impact.
Our organization has four core principles that form the basis for the Climate Recovery Ordinance we are proposing for Corvallis:
The government must respect the rights of its people to a healthy and sustainable environment.
To make this a reality we should aim for 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Corvallis should do our part to meet this goal.
Involvement and engagement of the community is needed in the process of creating solutions.
Climate action should be carried out in an equitable manner.
The philosophical basis of our movement is that humanity has a right to live on a planet that is healthy and can support human life. This manifests in the role of government, who functions to protect us from foreign and domestic threats. Climate change is both. It is, therefore, the duty of a moral government to help combat climate change for current and future generations. What this means today is aiming for emissions reduction based on the best modern science. All of the responsibility doesn’t fall on the government, however. Involvement from the community is critical to propel and maintain any serious attempts at climate action. Solutions need to be worked through the community if they are going to work for the community. Equity is a salient consideration. A law that reduces emissions but disproportionately affects the poor is unacceptable and the importance of hasty climate action is not an excuse for us to ignore our responsibility to all members of our society.
What We Have Been Up To
One of YouCAN Corvallis’ fundamental goals is to spread climate awareness throughout our community. With this in mind, we’ve tabled and presented at a variety of community events, from elementary school science fairs to earth day celebrations. Our next big opportunity to share our message is da Vinci Days, an annual outdoor festival in Corvallis where we will have a booth with art and information relating to climate change. Art, in particular, has proven a powerful tool to foster community involvement. We recently had the opportunity to work with the incredible international artist Esteban Camacho Steffensen to create a mural that reflects Corvallis’ environmental values. During several long brainstorming sessions, youth from the community discussed what concepts they wanted the mural to portray and pitched ideas to Esteban, the project’s main artist. The mural’s themes include the footprint we leave on our planet and the idea that humans are just one of many important species that share the earth. While Esteban and his family were the true artistic genius behind this creation, YouCAN members and other interested young people regularly showed up to help paint, clean supplies and, of course, talk climate. The completed mural, entitled “Walking Lightly Through Time”, contributes an aesthetic element to downtown Corvallis, but perhaps even more significant is its ability to spark an interest and dialogue about environmental issues that we can’t afford to ignore. By connecting to others through art and educational presentations, we hope to make climate change a topic that’s not reserved for scientists or professional environmentalists一we want it to be something that everyone understands and considers as they make decisions, big or small.
One section of the "Walking Through Time" mural in Corvallis.
On the political front, we have been finalizing a Climate Recovery Ordinance (CRO) that, if passed, will solidify the four core principles listed above into Corvallis’ municipal code. This would guarantee that even as administrations change and staff move in and out of local government, addressing climate issues will remain a priority. As part of this process, our team has sought out and incorporated feedback from the Climate Action Advisory Board (CAAB), a board set up by the city of Corvallis to focus on climate change. For the past sixth months at least a few of our members have attended every CAAB meeting to listen in and to discuss the CRO during the public comments time that occurs at the end of every session. Sitting in a stuffy room while adults discuss the details of gas taxes and reduction targets may not seem like every teen’s favorite way to spend a Monday evening, but these meetings have been a wonderful opportunity for us to learn about how our local government works and to voice our ideas. Ultimately, we’re hoping to make the CRO as close to perfect as possible and to win the CAAB’s support before we present the ordinance to the City Council.
YouCAN members speaking to the Climate Action Advisory Board (CAAB).