Isabella Garcia

[You can read all of the Mercury’s “Top Stories of 2021” here.—eds]

Not to be outdone by last year’s historic wildfires and ice storms, 2021 delivered deadly heatwaves and drought conditions. As the impacts of climate change became more apparent this year, the city took unprecedented action against a major polluter, a new program delivered its first round of eco-energy funding to frontline climate communities, and youth climate activists pushed leaders for faster action in lowering the state’s carbon emissions.

Zenith Energy Challenges Permit Denials: Following sustained community pressure, Portland City Council took a stand against Zenith Energy in 2021 and denied the crude oil transporter a land use permit it needed to operate its Northwest Portland facility. After the city denied Zenith the land permit, citing a conflict with the city’s climate goals, the company was at risk of having to shut down its Portland operations and launched a legal challenge against the city. A final court decision on whether the city had the legal ground to deny Zenith's permit is expected in the beginning of 2022.

Portland Students Demand City Take Action Against Climate Change: Several thousand Portland students walked out of class on September 24 for Portland’s Youth Climate Strike, a global climate movement. Thousands of students met at the Oregon Convention Center and marched to City Hall where a group of youth environmental advocates led speeches and demanded local leaders take faster action to reduce regional emissions and slow the impacts of climate change. “This is about policy, but this is also about letting our leaders know that we won't tolerate their inaction and that youth are going to continue striking, we’re going to continue protesting, we're going to continue pressuring them to take action on climate because our futures literally depend on it,” said 15-year-old strike co-organizer Adah Crandall.

Portland Clean Energy Grants Reach Recipients: The Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF)—a local eco-energy grant program funded through a tax on major retailers—started distributing grants in 2021. The program sets out to invest in low income communities and communities of color who are most impacted by the effects of climate change. Each grant went towards projects that improve energy efficiency, reduce or capture carbon emissions, or helped diversify the green energy career field. PCEF is expected to distribute $100 million in grants in 2022.

Deadly Heatwave Sweeps Portland: Portland’s climate change-fueled heatwave at the end of June killed over 60 people in Multnomah County. Most of the people who died lived alone without access to air conditioning, a county investigation found, prompting programs like PCEF’s Heat Response Program which plans to distribute 15,000 portable cooling units to tenants over the next five years. The heat wave also spurred conversations across Oregon on how to better inform people of cooling centers and identify people who need assistance during extreme heat events.

Portland’s Urban Farmers Face Climate Change Realities: As the Pacific Northwest’s temperatures become more unpredictable, farmers are having to adapt to new climate change-caused conditions to keep their crops. Urban farmers, who grow a small and diverse set of crops, are more nimble by nature and are capable of changing with the seasons. Oregon’s vineyards are looking to places like Australia to learn how our region’s wine style may shift as the state grows hotter and smokier.