Mayors push for climate of change
At its 75th Winter Meeting held in January, the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors called for a “climate of change,” urging federal officials to help local governments address global warming. In addition, the mayors called for a $4 billion Energy and Environmental Block Grant to help communities achieve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. American City & County talked with Steve Nicholas, director of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, about the importance of global warming, the role the federal government can play to curb it and how local agencies can reduce emissions in their communities.
Q: What is Seattle doing to reduce emissions and fight global warming?
A: We’ve significantly reduced our own city “carbon footprint” by more than 60 percent since 1990 by making our municipal electricity utility “carbon neutral.” This is achieved mostly through [conservation and use of] renewable energy sources such as hydroelectricity and wind. We have one of the nation’s largest portfolios of green buildings here in Seattle, including our new City Hall, which features the largest green roof in [the city]. In 2002, we launched a strong Clean & Green Fleet Program, [which] reduced fossil fuel consumption by 12 percent compared to 1999 levels [by using] gas-electric hybrid vehicles and converting our entire diesel fleet to a mix of biodiesel and ultra low sulfur diesel. [To reduce] community-wide emissions, [we increased] our investment in transit, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
Q: How does the city address challenges to its emissions control program?
A: [Climate disruption issues] require understanding and participation by the entire community. That’s probably our biggest challenge: engaging the whole community, including the private sector, in this important effort. [As part of a] multi-faceted community mobilization campaign that we’ll launch later this year, a community awareness and action campaign will educate all city employees and residents about the urgency of the global warming crisis [and] the actions they can take to make a difference. The Neighborhood Matching Fund [will provide matching grants to support neighborhood-based solutions such as car-sharing, and through the Seattle Climate Partnership, employers that pledge to assess and shrink their carbon footprints] will receive technical assistance [through] quarterly workshops, a resource guide and a Web site.
Q: What do cities need the most help with in fighting climate change?
A: Strong state and federal climate protection policies and programs that support, compliment and augment what we’re doing to fight global warming. We need strong state and federal fuel and energy efficiency standards. Cities need federal transportation funding to significantly increase transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, [and] not just highways and road improvements. Many cities don’t have the local wherewithal to assess their carbon footprints and are struggling to deal with climate impacts that already are upon us, and that will likely continue for decades.
Q: What advice can you offer other local government officials who would like to address environmental issues in their communities?
A: My number one piece of advice is: Do it. Not just for the environment, but for the health of your community and your economy. The actions we’re taking in Seattle are saving our households and businesses money through increased energy and fuel efficiency, improving public health [by reducing pollution] and creating new business opportunities.