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Vote for climate action and opportunity in Ashland

In the coming weeks, Ashland residents will elect a new mayor and three new city councilors. Several issues are on voters’ minds, with the health of the economy and the city budget topping the list. But as the ongoing fire season has made painfully clear, we have more than one crisis on our hands. Climate change is here and now, and it poses an existential threat to our lives and livelihoods far beyond the pandemic.

Where do our city candidates stand on climate issues? Do they recognize that we are in a climate crisis? Would they continue to implement the 2017 Ashland Climate and Energy Action Plan — or would this work fall victim to lip service and budget cuts? And what lessons did they learn from the Almeda fire?

Voters can find answers to these questions and more thanks to a recent series of candidate forums on climate issues hosted by the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. Conducted via Zoom before an audience of climate voters, these deep dives on climate were recorded and are now on YouTube. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, SOCAN cannot endorse candidates, but we can educate voters on where candidates stand on climate issues.

According to our recent online survey, Ashland residents are calling for meaningful action. While living under pandemic restrictions this summer, 61 percent of 225 respondents described themselves as “extremely” and 29 percent as “very” concerned about climate change. Read a summary of our findings here.

We are grateful to all 10 City Council and mayoral candidates for participating in these forums. Candidates took the discussion seriously and expressed concern about our changing climate. They differed, however, in their track record of commitment to climate work and their understanding of how city government can get results, working with local partners. And they have differing degrees of clarity about how climate work can translate into socially just economic opportunities for Ashland.

Many cities are restructuring their economies to embrace community-based solar and wind power initiatives that create local jobs and shift financial rewards back to local communities. Check out the Climate Mayors (climatemayors.org) initiative to learn what’s already happening in Pittsburgh, Dayton, San Antonio, Orlando, St. Paul and other cities. Yes, Ashland is small, but we should be on the list of leaders — because unlike most U.S. communities, we have already done the hard work of developing a plan that residents support, and we are clamoring for action. Nearly 88% of our survey respondents see local climate action as an economic stimulus, not a drain. With uncertainty hanging over Ashland’s current economic drivers, this is an ideal time to stimulate growth by investing in a sustainable future.

Ashland’s Climate Voters want city leaders who will create a more diversified, sustainable, just, and resilient economy, building on the work that has already been done. We need leaders who understand how to use city policy to reduce our climate impacts and help us live with inevitable climate change consequences. We need leaders with an informed vision of how to weave together economic redevelopment with greenhouse gas reduction to create a more sustainable, affordable and resilient city. And, we need leaders who see the power of joining forces with our neighboring communities to multiply our collective impact.

The Ashland Climate and Energy Action Plan, adopted by the council in 2017, lays out our priorities, but implementation has lagged. It took two years for the council to establish a citizens’ advisory Climate Policy Commission, which the pandemic then hobbled for several months. We need leaders who recognize Ashlanders’ overwhelming commitment to climate action and who will move forward decisively to implement the plan.

SOCAN-Ashland Climate Action is ready to partner with city leaders to act on the climate crisis. We will continue to amplify climate issues in all city dialogues, and work to mobilize and engage our community’s considerable assets, intelligence, and creativity to translate climate action into a stronger and more resilient and sustainable economy.

Who is best equipped to take the reins? You decide. Go hereand listen to the recordings.

Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. For more information contact lorrie@socan.eco.