At a Carrboro Town Council meeting on Tuesday, three individuals draped in red, with only their white-painted faces visible, filed into the council chamber. The room quieted and the individuals handed out purple flowers, first to the town council and then to the audience.
They were the Red Rebels, the performative activist group seen at demonstrations worldwide alongside the Extinction Rebellion movement, and they were there to make a statement about climate action.
The Carrboro Town Council opened the floor to speakers from the audience to discuss its potential 10-year Annual Climate Emergency Budget Proposal.
Before the entrance of the Red Rebels, Laura Janway, the Town’s environmental planner, gave a report on a possible 10-year annual climate emergency budget, which would fund various projects and efforts to combat climate change locally.
Carrboro is the only jurisdiction in Orange County to have adopted a climate action plan. The Town has adopted two — the Energy and Climate Protection Plan, which is the municipal plan, and the Community Climate Action Plan, which focuses on engaging the community to take steps to lower emissions and reduce waste. The core goal of the CCAP is to reduce Carrboro’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent, compared to emissions in 2012.
The proposed budget totals more than $204 million over 10 years. The current annual general fund budget of Carrboro is $25 million — 60 percent of which accounts for staff and administrative costs. To add an additional $20.4 million each year would require nearly doubling taxes in the Town.
“It’s really hard to imagine us doubling our tax, that people would be okay with that,” council member Sammy Slade said. “They prefer the end of the world.”
Slade said for many items on the budget, Carrboro typically matches 20 percent of the cost, receiving 80 percent of the funding from federal and state partners. He stressed the importance of 2020 as an election year, saying the results of state and federal elections will determine whether or not the budget proposal could be manageable.
The council opened the floor to a long line of speakers from the audience, all of whom agreed on one thing — action on the climate emergency is essential.
Through a liaison, the Red Rebels voiced their concern for life on the planet and said the present day is a defining moment in the history of the planet’s ecology, citing the recent wildfires in California, Australia and the Amazon as particularly concerning disasters.
“We all need to work together and deal with the climate emergency we are in, and we must work together, or we will die together,” their statement concluded.
Zachariah Claypole White, a Chapel Hill resident, said the area burned in Australia is the size of nearly 5,000 Carrboros. He reminded the council of their pledge to support the Green New Deal in December of 2018, where they acknowledged the urgent time frame for addressing the threat climate change poses to society.
“Now we are asking you to recognize that the necessity to change has to happen all the time," Claypole White said. “Every action must be framed by the possibility of radically transforming the world.”
Other speakers, mostly residents of Orange County, urged the council to treat climate change as an emergency, to focus on cost-effective solutions like awareness to stop vehicle idling, to lobby for action in the state government and to challenge state laws that impede great action, among other requests and pleas.
As the meeting came to an end, council member Damon Seils expressed gratitude toward those who spoke. He said North Carolina is in a political crisis as much as it is in an environmental one, in reference to climate denialism and inaction in the state government.
“I know some of you are already doing this every day," he said. "But bringing this kind of energy every day to flipping the House and the Senate in North Carolina, because none of what we want to achieve here is going to happen without doing that.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.