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As of December 2006, one hundred sixty-nine countries signed the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N.’s international treaty to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that have not signed it.
Faced with the profound importance of the issue, Greg Nickels, Mayor of Seattle, Washington, decided to take action: He challenged mayors in communities across the U.S. to join Seattle in creating positive solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Knowing that the U.S. is responsible for twenty-five percent of the world’s gas emissions, Nickels and ten other mayors pulled together the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Four hundred mayors were solicited to sign on and almost all have done so. Representing roughly fifty-four million people, in forty-nine states, these mayors committed their communities to the Kyoto Protocol goals. In addition to urging state and federal governments to enact aggressive policies to curb greenhouse gas production and establish a national emissions trading system, Mayors are taking local action.
Take Jackson, Wyoming, for example. Mayor Mark Barron, whose hotel laundry business was a big user of electricity and water, had already taken steps to reduce the carbon footprint of his own business. But the magnitude of what was possible came clear to him when he attended the Aspen Climate Conference, in Colorado. Realizing that any progress in reducing energy consumption could reap big benefits, he formed partnerships to multiply that effect.
Barron: We signed the Mayors Agreement, formed our Jackson Green Team, and most recently, we commissioned an energy audit of all of our building facilities so that we can find further reductions in terms of energy. The Town and the County are meeting to create a joint endeavor so that we can really carry the message on behalf of local governance in Wyoming and concert our efforts in reducing our carbon footprint.
For Durango’s now former Mayor, Sidny Zink, signing the agreement was a no-brainer, because she feels that her city had already taken many proactive steps on its own.
Zink: Durango has a long-standing and very successful recycling program that we are expanding both in terms of numbers of people who use it and in what we accept. We have been working on improving the efficiency of our fleet through hybrid vehicles and bio-diesel, and we’re looking very closely at any new building projects to be LEED certified.
Mayor Bruce Christiansen of Glenwood Springs, an area ripe for geo-thermal energy production but threatened by big oil and gas development, feels that city government is the one place where citizens can still have a strong voice.
Christiansen: The United States has historically been a leader in a global sense, and we’ve taken a back seat on this issue. The mayor’s initiative is a wonderful opportunity at the grassroots level where government truly is accessible to the people, to begin to, one, take some action, but secondly, make a statement that if it’s not going to happen from the top down, maybe from the bottom up we can initiate some action.
Denver’s Mayor, John Hickenlooper, followed his signing of the Agreement with an initiative called Greenprint Denver, an effort to promote the importance of sustainable development and ecologically-friendly practices throughout the Denver area, home to more than half a million people.
Hickenlooper: It’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s not about urban areas or rural areas. . . . This is the air we breathe, our children breathe, and in terms of burning energy, this is expensive to our society. Even if there’s only a two or three percent chance that global warming is occurring at the rate at which many scientists believe it is, those consequences would be so severe and so enormously expensive. Most of the efforts we make now in terms of greenhouse sustainability, they pay for themselves in just a few years.
The reasons are many for a decision to be proactive in the face of possible global warming. According to Barron, the future is what it’s all about.
Barron: In looking toward the future, it’s time to put on a new pair of glasses and attempt to look at our environment through the eyes of our grandchildren and focus those lenses to see what our environment is going to be. What are we going to be leaving our grandchildren, and what can we do today to positively impact our planet for our grandchildren tomorrow.
For more information about the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement or to learn how you can get involved, please check out our website at gooddirtradio.org.
I’m Tammy Graham and I’m Tom Bartels. Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news . . . for a change.