Mayors moving on climate change

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11339791058405.jpg’, ”, ‘Bill Richardson’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11339791487577.jpg’, ”, ‘Dave Cieslewicz’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11339791617577.jpg’, ”, ‘Larry Morrissey’);

While President George W. Bush admits that global warming is a reality, he and his administration refuse to do anything about it. A group of the nation’s mayors aren’t going to wait for federal action.

Some 145 mayors across the country have formed a coalition to deal with the issue and develop more liveable cities and more environmentally friendly ones, using innovative technologies and programs.

At the same time, the mayors say they can create jobs and stimulate local economies. The mayors say Congress has done little about any of this.

About 46 mayors gathered last summer at Robert Redford’s 6,000-acre resort near Park City, Utah, for a three-day retreat on climate change, as reported by Grist magazine.

“I’d love to have gotten an invitation,” said Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey, “but that was before I was in office.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former energy secretary to the Clinton administration, was quoted by the magazine as saying: “Let’s face it, if we wait around for the federal government to act, we aren’t going to see anything happen.”

“This is what I’ve always said,” Morrissey commented. “We’ve got to save ourselves. Mayors have to be pragmatic. Mayors are the ones in the position of subtracting from the bottom line of homeowners and business owners.”

These mayors are part of the coalition called the U.S. Conference of Mayors, of which Morrissey is a member. They reached unanimous agreement last July to implement locally the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the upper atmosphere. A total of 169 cities have agreed to these standards, which require a reduction of 6 percent in emissions below the 1990 levels by the year 2012.

This plan calls for reducing urban sprawl, developing alternative energies, educating the public and restoring forest lands. The U.S. has 4 percent of the global population but produces 22 percent of the total greenhouse gases. President Bush has refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty.

Greg Nickels, mayor of Seattle, told Inter Press Service: “Mayors across America are making it clear: we’re not going to wait for the federal government to do something to prevent the production of greenhouse gases. We’re going to step up and provide the leadership at the local level, city by city.”

In addition to acting on their own in their own cities, the mayors intend to put pressure on state and federal governments to follow the Kyoto standards and to push Congress to adopt the Climate Stewardship Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a national emissions trading system.

At his retreat on opening day, Redford told the mayors: “You here are closest to the people. The best and most significant change comes from the grassroots,” according to a report on Alternet.org. Later he added: “We can’t let America play Nero while the planet burns.”

Madison, Wis., Mayor Dave Cieslewicz started the New Cities Project, a network of mayors working to implement the energy independence ideas of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental and other groups eager to spur environmentally friendly economic growth, Alternet reported.

Patrick McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and head of the Republican mayors’ association, said the mayors’ coalition should be taken seriously. “We are the ones building roads, designing mass transit, buying the police cars and dump trucks and earthmovers. We’re the ones lighting up the Earth when you look at those maps from space. Together we have huge purchasing power, and if we invest wisely, that can have huge implications for the environment,” according to a report on CommonDreams.org.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore spoke to an assembly of mayors recently and noted some of the adverse effects of global warming already documented, such as glaciers melting, rising sea levels, possible flooding of coastal cities, severe storms, diseases and dangerous heat waves.

Common Dreams quoted Gore as saying: “We are witnessing a collision between our civilization and the Earth, a transformation of the relationship between our species and the planet. Is it only terrorists that we’re worried about? Is that the only threat to the future that is worth organizing to respond to?”

Gore said more and more scientists and corporations are coming to agree that climate change is taking place. What is lacking, he said, is the political will to take action.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality stated the Bush administration is spending $2 billion for initiatives to promote clean-coal technology, hydrogen-powered vehicles, nuclear power and renewable energy.

“I’m familiar with the discussion,” Mayor Morrissey said. “The biggest contributors to greenhouse gases are autos. Who’s producing it? It’s produced in the cities. What we are looking at in Rockford is the biggest thing we can do is to start to design a more efficient city.” The mayor last week attended such a discussion in Chicago. “I happen to be just leaving a conference on city design,” he told The Rock River Times then.

“The very thing I brought to the table was to try and develop alternatives to the automobile,” he said. “There’s a lot of expertise in City Hall on the environment, but we haven’t brought them together.” Morrissey said when it comes to approving and applying regulations, Rockford lacks what Chicago has, namely home rule, which allows cities more leeway in that regard.

“I’m looking forward to developing strategies…looking at our strategy and getting ramped up for alternative vehicles,” he said. The mayor was referring to future plans to adopt hybrid vehicles for city use.

Morrissey said he wants to avoid the creation of more urban sprawl. “I don’t promote urban sprawl,” he said. “What I’m suggesting is that we come up with some key changes to the Rockford Area Transportation Study (RATS), and start crafting a unified strategy for zoning and land use. It will make it easier for the developers. We must make sure we are efficient and not wasteful in the use of land. Land is very precious.”

Before the mayoral election, Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl presented then-candidate Morrissey with a 10-part program for environmental improvement in Rockford. It included such items as: efficiency, bioenergy, geothermal energy, wind power, solar energy, transportation, financial resources, policies and other topics.

We asked the mayor where that program stands. “That will be part of our green strategy,” he said. “I’m short-handed right now. The position of director of Community Development is not yet filled. I’m looking for a person familiar with the principles that I embrace. When I find him, he will have a strong environmental background.”

Are we likely to see the return of a more regional planning body so the various government bodies will not be working at cross-purposes? “We have got an opportunity to evolve RATS into a main planning group,” the mayor said. “In the past, the sanitary district has not been part of it.” He noted there can be no development without the availability of proper sewer service. “I’m excited about bringing all these entities together,” he said. “I’m just getting involved.”

One of those attending Redford’s Utah program was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Daley has implemented a number of eco-friendly measures in his city, from planting trees to installing bike paths to establishing renewable energy standards. “All of our major big-box [stores] have to do green roofs,” Daley said.

Daley said cities, more than states or federal agencies, “are terrific laboratories for testing environmental policies and initiatives. We can demonstrate what works [to reduce emissions] and send a signal to the federal level that they are economically safe to implement.”

Mayor Nickels won the “2005 City Livability Award” at the retreat. According to the Common Dreams report, he said: “Thanks to these programs, Seattle ha

s a cleaner source of electricity, sustainable buildings, and new economic opportunities. We’re proud to serve as an example to other cities that you don’t have to make a choice between your environment and your economy. You can improve both.”

From the Dec. 7-13, 2005, issue

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