|Last week’s Tacoma Youth Climate Strike drew perhaps two or three hundred attendees and Tollefson Plaza was only about half full. But the event, organized by Sunrise Movement and 350 Tacoma, was only one of many strikes held across the state, nation, and world that day. Listening to Puyallup Tribal and youth leaders, I knew that I was in a vital, living center of a vast movement.
The day was also prelude to history-making in Tacoma: speakers announced two upcoming votes on climate emergency resolutions. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians would be voting on its resolution on the morning of December 9, followed by the City Council in the afternoon. The crowd was encouraged to show up to support both.
Both resolutions have now passed. The Puyallup Tribe became what is believed to be the first tribal government in the United States to declare a climate emergency. Tacoma became one of dozens of cities nationwide to do so – but the first in Washington State.
The local youth climate movement is credited as a spur for both resolutions.
Tribe and city join in at the beginning of a growing movement for governmental declarations of climate emergencies which, according to Innovation for Cool Earth Forum, began only in 2016 and now number only slightly more than 1,200.
Their actions speak to a growing unity in defense of climate stability among local governments. The City of Tacoma’s announcement hails the moment as part of “a regionally comprehensive and coordinated effort to combat climate change.”
But notably missing from the city resolution – and present in the one passed by the tribe – is commitment to halt new construction or expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.
Of particular concern is the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plant – which will use fracked gas – currently being built on the ancestral lands of the Puyallup Tribe in Tacoma. Puget Sound Energy (PSE), the owner, is a foreign-held, for-profit entity.
In a harsh irony, December 9, 2019 was also the day when Puget Sound Clean Air Agency – in an action that the Puyallup Tribe has rebuked as an insult to the Tribe and all the people living in Tacoma – approved PSE’s permit to build the LNG plant.
The Puyallup Tribe, in its statement on this project, notes that it is “a dangerous fossil fuel anchor holding us back from a sustainable future”, that it would be a major emitter of air pollutants, that it presents a catastrophic risk of explosion threatening tribal members as well as city residents, that there are no safeguards in place to protect the populace from such an explosion, and that neither the City of Tacoma nor other government agencies have meaningfully consulted with the Tribe on the project as required by law.
The young woman pictured in the top photo at left told us that she’s less than 10 years old and spoke powerfully about her experiences at Standing Rock and our urgent need to drastically change course.