Grass-roots action on global warming

Mayors representing almost 30 million Americans rebuff Bush on the Kyoto Protocol, pledging to cut greenhouse gases on their own.

Published May 17, 2005 1:42PM (EDT)

Mayors from across the United States are signing up to an initiative to get American cities to meet the Kyoto Protocol environmental target that George W. Bush repudiated: cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 7 percent by 2010.

The response has astounded the scheme's founder, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who persuaded eight other mayors to write on March 30 to 400 colleagues across the country. Dozens of cities have since contacted his office, with the total reaching 134 in 35 states on Monday.

The mayors who have signed up represent 29.3 million people. Although most are Democrats, some 12 big cities with Republican mayors, representing 8 million people, have joined, including New York.

Nickels is a Democrat, but he said his campaign is nonpartisan. "This campaign has clearly touched a nerve with the American people," he said. "The climate affects Democrats and Republicans alike. Here in Seattle we rely on the winter snow for our drinking water and hydroelectricity, but it is disappearing; in Florida they have had hurricanes; in California they have had unseasonable heavy rain. Our weather patterns are changing."

He said each city had a tough target of cutting its emissions by 7 percent and each mayor would choose "a different path." "Conditions in Hurst, Texas, are different [from] here in Seattle," he said, "but we both think we can do it."

He said the fight to prevent climate change would not be expensive. "There are changes we will have to make, but there are many opportunities to create employment and make for a better life. In any event, the costs of doing nothing are greater than doing nothing. Climate change is happening and causing a lot of problems already. This can only get worse, and we have to start doing something about it now. Lots of other Americans appear to agree."

Among the proposals are running municipal vehicles on gas or electricity, investment in renewable energy, planting trees, promoting car pooling, improving public transport and providing bicycle lanes.

Each city has signed up to produce a greenhouse gas inventory and a plan on how to reduce it.

In Seattle cruise ships are required to turn off their diesel engines in dock and hook up to the city's renewable-energy supplies to cut emissions, a move that has caused some ships to refit their electricity systems. Salt Lake City has become Utah's biggest buyer of wind power in order to meet its target.

New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who signed up last week, is trying to reduce emissions from the municipal vehicle fleet by buying hybrid-powered vehicles.

Ray Nagin, the mayor of low-lying New Orleans and a Democrat, told the New York Times that he joined the coalition because a projected rise in sea levels "threatens the very existence of New Orleans."

In Hawaii, the mayor of Maui County, Alan Arakawa, a Republican, said he joined because he was frustrated by Washington's failure to recognize the scientific consensus that climate change is happening because of human activity.

Seattle's move is the latest in the groundswell of concern about the Bush administration's failure to take action on climate. The White House has poured money into research and believes technology will solve the problem while at the same time maintaining that taking action now would lead to higher energy prices and the loss of 5 million jobs.

In a separate alliance, a number of states, including New York, have signed up to a carbon trading deal that would cut the emissions of fossil-fuel-burning power stations by exchanging carbon credits for cash.

By Paul Brown

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