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From the Front Lines of California's Fires, Yolo County Joins 1,750+ Communities in Declaring Climate Emergency

The resolution's success, said one organizer, "is a testament to the social movement power demanding both transformative climate action and concrete steps to remedy the legacy of systemic racism."

In this long exposure photo, the LNU Lightning Complex fire continues to burn in the ridges near Chemise Road in Healdsburg, California on August 21, 2020. (Photo: Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

In this long exposure photo, the LNU Lightning Complex fire continues to burn in the ridges near Chemise Road in Healdsburg, California on August 21, 2020. (Photo: Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

As California endures unprecedented wildfires fueled by climate change, county leaders in an agricultural community west of Sacramento continued a global trend of local governments issuing climate emergency declarations on Tuesday by approving a resolution that calls for an inclusive, justice-focused countywide mobilization.

"Being on the front lines of the fires and suffering from heatwaves and days of hazardous, smoke-filled air this summer has definitely created a new sense of urgency."
—Juliette Beck, Yolo County Climate Emergency Coalition

"Being on the front lines of the fires and suffering from heatwaves and days of hazardous, smoke-filled air this summer has definitely created a new sense of urgency," Juliette Beck, an organizer with Yolo County Climate Emergency Coalition, told Common Dreams in an email Tuesday after the resolution passed.

"Yolo County's action today of declaring a climate emergency in our predominantly rural agricultural county of 220,000 residents," Beck added, "is a testament to the social movement power demanding both transformative climate action and concrete steps to remedy the legacy of systemic racism."

Organizers with the Yolo Climate Emergency Coalition spearheaded the resolution, which was endorsed by over 100 grassroots groups and individuals in the community from local farms, businesses, faith-based alliances, educational institutions, and various advocacy campaigns.

Approved 4-1 by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, the resolution recognizes that the Covid-19 pandemic "has spurred a health and economic crisis that has exposed and amplified pervasive social and economic disparities that will be further amplified by the climate change crisis." It also notes the climate impacts many California residents are already facing and the county's previous actions to address the crisis.

"Yolo County can continue its leadership by initiating with urgent speed a Climate Mobilization of countywide resources to effect a just transition to an inclusive, equitable, sustainable, and resilient local economy while also supporting and advocating for regional, national, and international efforts necessary to reverse the climate, social justice, and economic crises," the document says.

The resolution specifically calls for working "to achieve a just economic recovery and transition to a countywide carbon negative (climate-positive) footprint by 2030."

During the meeting, Supervisor Don Saylor said: "We need to hold ourselves accountable to real deadlines just to keep things from getting worse. The goal of carbon neutrality by 2030 might not be fast enough. I'd like to make sure we as a county have done our part and have made measurable progress by 2025."

The sole supervisor who didn't support the declaration, Duane Chamberlain, was voted out of office earlier this year and will be replaced in January by Woodland City Council Member Angel Barajas—a son of local farmworkers.

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The approved resolution commits Yolo County to a planning and implementation process "that engages and empowers all stakeholders, including historically under-represented and disproportionately impacted communities."

Adelita Serena of Mothers Out Front, a grassroots climate action organization that backed the resolution, said in a statement: "I have two sons and I want them to have a future. We must act now with great urgency."

"As a mother and Indigenous woman, what we are currently seeing is a very clear and loud alarm from our Mother Earth and ancestors," said Serena, who is based in Woodland. "We must change course off fossil fuels before it's too late."

A farmworker who has worked during the devastating LNU Lightning Complex Fire shared in a statement from organizers, "My lungs are still irritated from breathing contaminated air, all the smoke, dust, ash I inhaled while working in the fields."

"I'm still working every day even though I can't stop coughing because I know the work will end soon and I need to be responsible and help take care of my family," added the farmworker, who asked to remain anonymous. "What other choice do I have?"

In addition to passing the resolution, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors committed $50,000 to an advisory committee "tasked with helping the county achieve just and equitable outcomes for marginalized communities and to retool livelihoods," according to the Climate Mobilization, which supports U.S. climate emergency campaigning.

With the vote Tuesday, Yolo County joined a decentralized global campaign that has led over 1,750 local governments—along with 17 national and supranational governments—to declare a climate emergency, most of them in the past two years. By the Climate Mobilization's count, more than 833,500,000 people are living under such declarations in 30 countries and the European Union.

"Declarations of climate emergency are a key starting point to get local governments on record and to accelerate their climate goals."
—Matt Renner, The Climate Mobilization

Across the United States, over 11% of the total population lives in a jurisdiction that has declared a climate emergency, Matt Renner, executive director of the Climate Mobilization, told Common Dreams.

"Declarations of climate emergency are a key starting point to get local governments on record and to accelerate their climate goals—these declarations give organizers and activists leverage to hold the actions of their local governments accountable," Renner said. "The next step is fighting for justice-based mobilization-scale policies to drive down emissions using local powers."

"This means ending neighborhood oil drilling, ending the use of methane gas in homes, building out low-carbon transportation infrastructure, and supporting the creation of good union jobs as we sprint to 100% renewable energy," he explained. "It will look different in every locality—that's why it's so critical that there's a community advisory committee helping to develop the plan and overseeing implementation."

Recognizing the power of local governments, under pressure from organizers, to advance "tangible policy to accelerate climate action now," regardless of what happens in national politics, Renner added, "I think this campaign can give us hope in a dark time for the climate movement."

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