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Upon urging from youth activists, Tacoma City Council to vote on climate emergency

350 Tacoma
Erin Rasmussen of the Sunrise Movement presents four demands to City Council during the September 20th Tacoma Youth Climate Strike.

UPDATE, Dec. 11: The Tacoma City Council approved the resolution in a unanimous vote Tuesday night.

The Tacoma City Council will vote Tuesday evening on a resolution declaring a climate emergency. The legislation comes in response to demands from youth activists who have been walking out of school on Fridays to call for more urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.  

The resolution does not achieve one of their key demands, of halting all new and current fossil fuel expansion projects. But 21-year-old Erin Rasmussen, an organizer with Sunrise Tacoma, says it's an important step in the right direction and will set a foundation for accountability from city leaders.   

“If they say yes to declaring an emergency and treating the climate crisis as such, then their actions moving forward have to be bold and strong and match the language and commitment that they made,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen helped found the Tacoma chapter of the Sunrise movement, which is pushing for change along the lines of the Green New Deal championed by progressive Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

Tacoma City Council member Ryan Mello says the words of youth activists like her — along with the sheer size of the crowds — caught his attention during the youth climate strike in September. He was especially impressed by how articulate the strikers' demands were.

“You know these youth are very crystal clear about what is at stake and it was very inspiring to hear them demnd more urgent action from their elected officials,” he said.

Mello became the prime sponsor of the resolution.  He says it not only declares that the city of Tacoma believes that the climate crisis is an urgent emergency and that the city needs to treat it that way, but it also outlines specific actions the city needs to take.

“It directs the city manager to redevelop our environmental action plan with the goal in mind to reduce greenhouse gases in a much more urgent time frame,” he said.

The goals are based on a recent science report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that radical transformation is needed over the next 11 years to prevent climate warming of more than one and a half degrees.

Mello says this means there will be “a laser focus” on slowing climate change in the city’s environmental action plan once they rewrite it. There’s also money attached to the resolution,to train all city managers on the latest climate change science and for a program to track fossil fuel use and transport through the city, with an eye toward future reduction.

If it passes, the climate action group 350 Tacoma says it appears the city would be the first in Washington to declare a climate emergency, though dozens of cities have done so in other states.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to