Cities taking on a global challenge - East Valley Tribune: Business

Cities taking on a global challenge

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Posted: Sunday, October 22, 2006 7:33 am | Updated: 4:58 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. - Mayor John Rayson has seen powerful storm winds toss his boat into the trees. He’s noted the fish he catches are smaller and less plentiful. He worries about a home perched just above sea level as ocean levels rise.

And so, he will go before his city commission and ask for building code changes that would provide incentives for putting up environmentally friendly structures and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that this city of 100,000 emits. It’s one of a number of Earth-friendly measures under way here, from reused water irrigating lawns and parks, to a new library powered by renewable energy.

As Rayson puts it: ‘‘I want to see the city do its part.’’

Local politicians like Rayson abound across this country, attempting to embrace the measures of the Kyoto Protocol — which called for mandatory reductions of greenhouse gases among the signing nations — even as the federal government refuses.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement initiative last year and Rayson and more than 300 other mayors have followed his lead, promising to strive to meet Kyoto targets in their own communities.

‘‘I think it’s a common interest that we have that rises above politics,’’ Nickels said. ‘‘This really has to do with the survival of our world.’’

Nickels started the mayors’ effort after Kyoto took affect without U.S. participation. At the same time, he said he was experiencing climate change first hand, as Seattle was tracking decreased snow mass in the mountains, a concern because the melted snow contributes to the city’s water and power supplies.

‘‘I decided to challenge my community and at the same time challenge other mayors,’’ he said. ‘‘I knew it would resonate in Seattle. What I didn’t expect was that in many other parts of the country people are experiencing these things too.’’

The response has been staggering. Efforts are being undertaken by mayors of cities in 46 states, representing more than 50 million Americans. There are big cities like New York and small ones like Easton, Conn.; liberal ones like San Francisco and conservative ones like Hurst, Texas, launching all sorts of programs aimed at meeting the Kyoto standards.

Lincoln, Neb., is now running its public buses on biodiesel, has begun operating wind turbines at its electric utility and has established miles of bike and pedestrian trails. Lexington, Ky., has replaced incandescent traffic signal bulbs with more energyefficient LED ones, added hybrid cars to its municipal fleet and began picking up trash just once a week to trim vehicle emissions.

And in Salt Lake City, stricter guidelines aimed at making public buildings green have been passed, wind energy is being more widely used and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions has been cut to 106 percent below 2001 levels.

Many cities have partnered with businesses to meet their goals.

More than 50 businesses are taking part in the Climate-Wise program sponsored by Fort Collins, Colo., in which the city offers free assessments of a firm’s energy, water, solid waste, transportation and recycling, then offers guidance on becoming more efficient. Chicago awards grants for rooftop gardens that help improve air quality, conserve energy and reduce storm water runoff. And Seattle recently began a partnership in which businesses assess and cut greenhouse gas emissions and encourage their workers, customers and suppliers to do the same.

Add to the hundreds of localized efforts more wideranging ones — former President Clinton has backed an international Large Cities Climate Leadership Group to cut greenhouse gases and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for his state to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010 — and it seems nearly every locale is doing something.

‘‘I literally have five to six things that come across my desk every day,’’ said Michele Betsill, a professor of international politics at Colorado State University. ‘‘You’re having this interesting bottom-up push back up to the executive level.’’ Betsill is studying municipal environmental efforts and co-authored ‘‘Cities and Climate Change: Urban Sustainability and Global Environmental Governance.’’

Not everyone is convinced, though, including Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow in environmental studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

‘‘Climatically, it means nothing,’’ he said, arguing that even with full compliance with Kyoto, the impact would be negligible. ‘‘If all the nations of the world lived up to the Kyoto Protocol the effect on global warming would be undetectable for a century. So the effect of a few cities within the United States living up to Kyoto would be less than undetectable.’’

Some say initiatives like the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement are simply formalizing efforts already being undertaken by cities.

‘‘Even if the mayor would have never signed the agreement, these initiatives would still be going on today,’’ said Jeff Jones, assistant city manager in Hurst.

Even Betsill, who is optimistic, acknowledges that local politicians’ efforts have limited effect.

‘‘There is no magic bullet,’’ she said. ‘‘So it’s not as if all the mayors of the United States all of a sudden step up and say, ’We’re going to solve climate change,’ that is going to solve the problem.’’

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