Taking on the Climate Crisis – and Securing an Emerald City for Generations to Come
This summer we witnessed the vulnerability of our city to extreme heat, the West Coast experienced another summer of catastrophic fires, and a recent UN climate report paints a grim future for our planet if we fail to take immediate, coordinated action.
It is clear we cannot tolerate a significantly warmer world with increasingly severe weather fluctuations, and must take comprehensive action at all levels of government, business and society to address these threats. The next decade is critical for setting a new course and preventing the worst effects of climate change. Seattle must set an example as America’s leading climate-forward city – and we cannot leave anyone behind.
Climate change is a global issue defined by policy choices, business decisions and structural inertia, but, at its core, it is the sum result of community and individual actions, with impacts felt by individuals and disproportionately by communities of color and lower income populations.
Seattle has set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, but we are not on track to meet these critical targets without immediate action. While we rely on local, state, and federal partners to meet overall goals, Seattle can and must lead the way.
As a father and grandfather, lifelong Seattle resident, and candidate for Mayor, I will bring needed urgency in leadership and commitment to lead our city in addressing climate change.
I will define a bold climate agenda guided by science and equity that sets ambitious and necessary goals, so we can do our part. Every issue facing our city is connected to our environment and climate – housing, transportation, energy, the economy, racial and social justice. Climate action and environmental justice cannot be an afterthought or a secondary consideration, but integrated into every aspect of city governance.
Throughout this pandemic, we have followed science. The climate crisis demands the same approach. As Mayor, I’ll be the city’s top recruiter, bringing in and elevating the experts – scientists, climate specialists, environmental justice advocates, and tribal leaders. I passed Seattle’s Climate Action Plan and Green New Deal – let’s act now to create a localized clean energy economy with new union jobs, 100% clean buildings, great parks, affordable and reliable green transportation options, and an Emerald City for generations to come.
With that in mind, the realities of climate change require us to respond in two broad and intersecting ways:
- We must do our part to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Under my leadership, Seattle will collaborate and lead in the global, national, and state policies and technology developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Doing our part is critical, but it is not enough – we need to lead and show the way forward for other cities around the world. My approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will focus on enabling our people to affordably transition their energy consumption away from fossil fuels.
Seattle is in a unique position to lead cities worldwide in addressing climate change. We have a strong technology-driven economy and a forward-thinking population that cares about our environment and community. Seattle City Light, which supplies our electricity, is managed to serve our community’s needs, not to generate a profit. So we can afford to lead, we have the desire to lead, and we have the authority to lead. Seattle cannot do this alone, and as Mayor, I will collaborate and help define the state, national, and global policies that will solve the climate crisis.
Responding to the climate crisis requires integration across city agencies, businesses, neighborhoods, and Seattle residents. Shifting home heating to electricity will do nothing if we do not also provide the needed carbon-free electricity capacity. Cleaning up our own footprint will do very little if it is not part of a larger state and national effort. We cannot solve the climate problem by shifting the economic and environmental burden to our most vulnerable and underserved communities. I have the experience in city government and the deep roots in impacted communities needed to quickly organize around the issue of climate change.
Addressing the climate crisis with urgency – and agency – we will:
- Develop a localized clean energy economy through new, green, union jobs in energy, transportation, and construction and retrofitting – with a just transition, strong labor standards, and apprenticeships that ensure workers thrive.
- Establish truly 100% Clean Buildings – by ending the use of natural gas in new construction, supporting efforts to replace aging gas systems with clean electricity in existing homes and buildings, and expanding adoption and accessibility of rooftop solar.
- Better connect our neighborhoods to each other and within, through strong transit networks, walkable and bikeable pathways, and by committing to inclusive, equitable urban planning where jobs, schools, childcare, fresh food, and other needs are proximate to dense and affordable housing and living wage jobs.
- Preserve and invest in Seattle’s world-class parks, protect p-patches and encourage community gardening, conserve and expand our tree canopy – especially in areas where “heat sinks” and lack of greenery threaten localized and unjust impacts. We must also expand access to green spaces in underserved and historically marginalized communities.
- Fight air and stormwater pollution with an emphasis on environmental justice, including phaseout of internal combustion engine cars, buses, and other fleet vehicles that not only harm the climate, but local air and water quality, disproportionately in BIPOC and lower income communities adjacent to transportation infrastructure.
Building on this outline, specific areas of policy development and we will explore and advocate include:
An effective way for our city to help reduce home energy consumption, phase out natural gas usage, and shift to green electricity is through installing more heat pumps. As we experience more hot summer days in Seattle, some are turning to installing air conditioning systems. Ironically, doing so increases energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, challenging the transition to clean electricity. However, an air conditioner can be cheaply upgraded to a heat pump, which provides efficient winter heating and, over the year, can offset the energy costs of the air conditioning.
Critical to this effort is demonstrating to the community how important this effort is for reducing our emissions. We will need to provide significant incentives, especially for low-income neighbors, and logical entry points for those making the change to install heat pumps. I will explore all options for prompt conversions and seek to limit disruptions, strongly encouraging neighbors to shift systems during renovations and home sales.
Green Construction Equity and Opportunity
Building new – and retrofitting existing – housing and commercial spaces in our city will create and sustain thousands of good paying jobs. In tandem with my Seattle Jobs Center, I will make sure we use this opportunity as a tool for equity.
- Contracting and Hiring. Through the city’s contracting office and my proposed Seattle Jobs Center, we will nurture, connect, and facilitate opportunities for BIPOC and women owned businesses and contractors to participate and prosper in this important work.
- Opportunities for Youth. In addition, I will propose a Youth Jobs Initiative based on the expansion of apprenticeships, internships, and technical sector jobs related to new infrastructure and retrofitting buildings to expand community capacity and expertise in this sector.
- A Green Jobs Bill of Rights. As we make massive public investments in our sustainable economy, we should leverage those investments to correct historical and racial inequities within our labor protections. These jobs must meet or exceed prevailing wage standards, have portable benefits for gig or part–time work, apprenticeship utilization, preferred community hire, and create contracting opportunities for women-, minority-, veteran-owned businesses with protections against abuse and discrimination regardless of immigration status.
Transportation, Housing, And Land Use Planning
Transportation is the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle, and we must increase the density – and affordability – of housing in our city to shorten and change commute patterns and decrease energy usage.
Reducing individual car trips is essential to reducing emissions, alongside building out our transit infrastructure, from light rail to electric buses. Even with a transition to electric vehicles, we will not have enough clean energy to supply our economy if we do not reduce the energy consumption from transportation. Key policies I will advance as Mayor to reduce transportation impacts are:
- Improve our public transportation to connect all our neighborhoods. My climate policies will address all modes of transportation, but the strategy to reduce vehicle miles starts with public transportation. A transit-based approach reduces street traffic and improves the safety for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Transit is also essential to equitably reducing vehicle emissions given the high costs of owning, charging, and maintaining electric cars.
We need to make transit better than driving for more people and more neighborhoods – especially those that have been neglected for so long, such as in South Seattle. As Mayor, I will make transit faster by expanding dedicated bus lanes, and I will make transit more accessible by collaborating with our transit partners and community leaders to connect more communities.
- Support the continued development of dense, vibrant communities and increased housing supply in Seattle. Seattle is a growing city and we need to provide more, and more affordable, housing options for all of our people regardless of economic circumstances. I will turn to proven policies that help build stronger and more equitable communities.
I voted for and support upzoning throughout Seattle that has created capacity for thousands of new units of affordable and mixed use housing – what we need now is the leadership to bring both private and public resources to the table to dramatically increase housing construction. As Mayor, I will continue to pursue sustainable growth policies that simultaneously reduce our environmental impact and create greater economic opportunity and security for all residents. Neighborhoods with jobs, education and childcare, grocery stores and other essential amenities, and affordable housing all in one place ensure diverse, thriving communities; enable more walking trips, biking, and greater access to public transportation; and reduce our climate impact.
- Rethink Seattle streets for mixed us and zero emission mobility. The pandemic has driven fundamental changes in the way many of us work, play, and engage with our neighborhoods. Our non-arterial roadways have often doubled makeshift gathering places, extended sidewalks, and places for recreation.
The current Stay Healthy Streets Plan is a good start toward creating long term, safe multi purpose use of existing roadways. As we look toward meeting urgest emission reduction goals, we should review, expand, and connect these non-motorized roadways, creating cleaner, quieter, safer, and zero pollution corridors and communities in our city.
Divestment from Fossil Fuels
Just as we work to reduce the impact of fossil fuels in our energy system and in our home heating solutions, we must ensure our city moves on from them in our investment portfolio. In the past, I have lobbied the Seattle City Employees’ Retirement System Board to divest from fossil fuels – that will continue to be a priority I will take up with renewed enthusiasm as Mayor. This is critical not just for the health of our planet – but for a strong retirement portfolio for our members.
2. We must reduce the vulnerability of our city and people to the inevitable impacts of climate change.
Nothing could be more important for me as mayor than protecting Seattle residents and infrastructure. Under my leadership, every aspect of city operations will incorporate the impacts of future climate change. We have excellent scientific guidance on how climate change will affect our region and we need to use every tool available to improve how we prepare for and manage weather and climate disasters.
Recent heat waves and flood events have clearly shown that Seattle is vulnerable to future natural disasters – disproportionately in communities of color – made worse by climate change. Our disaster management will be proactive and equitable, adapting to climate change to reduce vulnerabilities over time and managing disasters by moving swiftly to prepare before an extreme event.
- We must build and rebuild with climate resilience as a focus. Urban flooding and heatwaves are a great threat to the health and safety of our citizens, and these events are likely to become more extreme in the coming decades even as we work to reduce the magnitude of climate change. Exposure to these events varies considerably across the city, worsening existing inequities. As mayor, I will work specifically to reduce the vulnerability of our citizens to climate disasters.
My Race and Data Initiative will include measures modeled on the state’s 2021 HEAL Act, using environmental mapping and a climate justice lens to identify inequitable exposure and invest in the most vulnerable communities. We will regularly use environmental mapping to compare climate factors like pollution exposure, tree canopy percentages, accessible park locations, rates of pollution-enhanced diseases like asthma, with maps of neighborhood demographics like race and income. We will track these efforts in the long term and relate them to other key priorities like food security and healthcare access.
- One key to reducing the impacts of both heat waves and urban flooding is to preserve open spaces and tree cover. Natural vegetation has numerous benefits to the environment and can help moderate the impacts of climate change on neighborhoods. Vegetation has a natural cooling effect, reducing the impacts of heat waves. The permeable surfaces in open spaces absorb heavy rains, reducing urban flooding. Trees can even improve air quality. We will ensure that as we build more housing to meet our city’s growth, we will preserve open spaces and natural vegetation across the city and take actions to increase open spaces in neighborhoods that have been underserved by historic land use policies.
Further, growing up in the redlined Central Area, spending my days at the Arboretum, Garfield High School, and other recreational areas, I learned how big a difference access to parks can make for members of marginalized communities. A map of Seattle’s historic and even current tree cover creates a near 1:1 overlay with historically white neighborhoods versus those that were redlined and deprived of amenities such as parks and greenways, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and land use planning that preserved trees and prevented “heat sinks” in urban areas. Expanding access to parks, tree cover, and other forms of urban forestry is a climate equity priority.
- To better adapt to climate change, we must also improve Seattle’s infrastructure. As mayor, I will make broad investments in our infrastructure, guided by the best practices to reduce vulnerabilities to climate change. Investments will include the mundane such as storm water and sewer systems, the electricity grid, and the shoreline. We will also make investments in community centers and public spaces to quickly address the needs of vulnerable citizens to extreme heat.
We will plan in advance climate mitigation strategies and resources to help those in need escape the heat and unhealthy air of wildfire season. Seattle’s public buildings can offer accessible clean air, cool temperatures, and other supports as needed – and we need to be well organized so we can deploy these resources rapidly when events occur. Early warning systems and education are also proven essential in managing climate disasters, and we will integrate across city, county, and state agencies to provide practical guidance and accessible resources to vulnerable neighborhoods before extreme events occur.
We all have a stake in preventing climate catastrophe – and, more so, an obligation to our youth and future generations to live up to this moment.
From crisis rises opportunity – and as your Mayor, I will bring the city together around a shared vision to defeat climate change and ensure a healthy environment and a more equitable city for all.