Across the country, city and community leaders have been making progress on developing and implementing climate solutions. Facilitating rooftop or community solar programs, incentivizing water-wise landscaping, and pushing strong energy efficiency standards for new construction are some of the actions already underway. Many big city mayors have begun to act in response to top-down pressure, such as the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan or the more recent COP 21 Paris climate agreements.
Any action at the city level represents progress, and it is clear that progress is being made. However, the seriousness of climate change and the consequences of inaction should inspire mayors to pursue bold climate action plans that go beyond what are often called for. And many are beginning to do just that.
In New York, a bill before the state assembly would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2050. City leaders in Portland have committed to cutting carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030, and 80% by 2050. San Diego has implemented plans to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035. There, Mayor Faulconer sums up what prompted him to act: “I pride myself on being fiscally responsible and environmentally conscious. The two aren’t exclusive. I’ve never seen it as a zero sum game. We want a [climate action] plan that is ambitious and leads the way for the rest of the country.” These represent a small slice of how mayors are beginning to boldly act on climate, and as Mayor Faulconer put it, climate solutions can be economic winners.
The commitments made by these and many other big city mayors represent progress for climate change, but also progress for communities. Increasing access to public transportation networks and bike-share programs help drive down commute times and hours spent in traffic. Fewer cars on the road means less pollution, and therefore improved health benefits. Increased access to wind and solar power helps drive down electricity bills for families, putting more dollars back into the hands of residents to spend on more important family expenses. Stringent energy efficiency standards for buildings can decrease costs of heating and cooling for businesses. And climate action means jobs. Already outnumbering jobs in coal, oil and gas—clean energy jobs created by investing in climate solutions bring well paying, stable employment to communities which need them most.
Mayors and city leaders should begin by first considering the type of community which they hope to live in and leave for future generations. It is easy to become overwhelmed by bleak statistics and the constant stream of negative discourse on climate change. Instead, mayors should focus their efforts on the benefits of action, which have already been well established. With opportunities working in their favor, mayors can no longer delay.
Mayors and local officials represent government leadership that is closest to the people. This facilitates opportunities for directly improving the lives of residents, businesses, and families in their city. Because of their unique situation, mayors must be bold. Mayor Biskupski of Salt Lake City, Utah, makes the case for action best: “Climate change may have once been the ultimate slow-moving and global threat, but our residents and our critical infrastructure are already feeling its effects. The threats to our economies are serious enough that the risks of continued inaction can no longer be ignored.”
Mayors can not afford to be content with piecemeal action, but must pursue initiatives that promise to forge immediate and efficient results. Reaching zero emissions, transitioning to 100% renewables, and creating healthy green communities is possible in big cities, and are possible in your city. Start that journey now learning the best ways to communicate about climate, and by joining with bold climate leaders at Path to Positive Communities.
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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