A South End-based, youth-led climate coalition is working to expand its reach in its latest effort to get Island County commissioners to declare a climate emergency.
United Student Leaders, known on the island as USL, held a protest in Coupeville March 24, the first of a series of planned events meant to foster engagement among North and Central Whidbey and Camano Island residents.
In September 2022, the commissioners passed a resolution affirming the county’s commitment to combating climate change based on suggested legislation provided by USL. However, the county’s final version of the resolution removed language declaring a climate emergency, an omission that drew criticism from USL members and other climate activists.
The board moved forward unanimously with the less urgent language, citing a desire to pass a resolution that all three commissioners — and constituents from all three districts — could get behind as a primary reason for stopping short of declaring an emergency or crisis.
Commissioner Melanie Bacon, who represents South and Central Whidbey Island, noted during the Sept. 6, 2022 meeting when the resolution was passed that most petitioners for the emergency declaration came from her district.
“We cannot do this by ourselves,” Bacon said. “We need the people in District 2 and District 3 to also say, ‘This is important to us.’”
Commissioner Jill Johnson, who represents Oak Harbor, concurred, stating at the same meeting that she didn’t believe there was “broad enough buy-in” across the county for the proposed emergency declaration.
“There is not one person in this room from District 2,” she said. “There is not one business on that list from the largest business community in Island County.”
In response to these concerns, USL is now implementing a new approach — to garner support from North Whidbey and Camano Island residents for a climate emergency declaration.
“We’re aiming to gain support for the declaration, for the commissioners to see how many people of Island County do want this to happen,” USL member Torrey Green said.
USL will lead a series of outreach protests called “Vocalize our Future” to achieve its goal. During last Friday’s protest, 18 students and community members rallied in front of the county commissioners’ offices in Coupeville to demonstrate their support for an emergency declaration.
The next protest will take place in Oak Harbor on Friday, April 21.
Johnson said in a message that she believes amending the resolution to include an emergency declaration would accomplish nothing, as the distinction between the wording passed by the county and the wording proposed by USL is just “meaningless rhetoric.”
“I understand the words they want, but words aren’t outcomes,” she said. “I would assume that if you were really concerned about climate change, your priority would be laser focused on outcomes, not on changing the words in a resolution that will sit in a file.”