AAAS Diary: Go Local

Reporter Graeme Stemp-Morlock blogs from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco.

When environmental advocates want to stop global warming, they often focus their attention on achieving large changes at the federal or state-wide level.  But, as was discussed today at the AAAS annual meeting, the best place to begin saving the world might be city hall.


Although local municipal governments may seem like small potatoes, they actually control a great deal, including land use, building codes, public transit, and can even influence the electricity supply.  In fact, it’s estimated that municipal operations (parks, city buildings, traffic lights, sewage processing plants, etc.) amount for 3-5% of each community’s emissions.

So, how do you get your local politician to care?  Easy, talk to them.  While your federal and state politicians can hide in an office many hundreds of miles away from your house, your local government should be within easy walking distance.

Once you get their attention, talk about local issues.  Polar bears and rainforest are important issues, but it won’t get your mayor re-elected.  Yet rising sea levels mean a lot to storm water drains, airborne pollution to public health, and heat waves to electricity supply.  If you can get someone on council to champion an environmental cause, then you are on your way to seeing real change said Abby Young of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

“Salt Lake City for many years was a part of the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign because there was a wonderful low level staff person who desperately wanted the city to do something about climate protection, but really wasn’t empowered to do much and so it was in name only,” said Young.  “Then a number of years ago Rocky Anderson was elected mayor and he took this one as his number one issue.   Now a number of years later Salt Lake City is one of the shining stars in the country for comprehensive action on climate protection.”

The number one reason local politicians will act is money saving potential.  Make the case that saving the environment is good for balancing the budget.  And, assure councilors that they aren’t reinventing the wheel.  There are over 217 local governments participating in the ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection program with more adding every week.  Maybe yours will be next.

-Graeme Stemp-Morlock 



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Interesting article. I agree about approaching local government, however I do not agree with the promotion of the Mayor's Climate Change Agreement. It does not go far enough to help local government acknowledge and prepare for the end of cheap energy - peak oil. Here is a comparison of the Mayor's Climage Change Agreement and a composite of Peak Oil Resolutions. To ask local government to mitigate one while ignoring the other could be counterproductive. Some cities like Portland and San Francisco initially passed a resolution for the Mayor's Climate Change Agreement and subsequently passed a Peak Oil Resolution. However, for those cities that have yet to do either, it might be more expedient to pursue a local plan of action to address both.

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