[Part 5 of the Beyond the Underpants Gnomes series, a response to Bill McKibben]
Playing on the local board sounds interesting. But can we win big enough here to make our efforts worthwhile?
To get a sense of what’s possible on this board, let’s take a quick tour of what US cities and states are doing right now without having a mass movement behind them.
You may have heard of PlanNYC, New York City’s very ambitious plans to reduce CO2 emissions 30% by 2030. Or California’s plans to reduce CO2 emissions to below 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. But there are plenty of other states and cities that are gearing up. Just to cite a few states, Florida and Minnesota is going for 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, and Illinois wants to hit 60% below 1990 levels by 2050. Even some states you wouldn’t expect are setting some targets — Arizona’s shooting for 50% below 2000 by 2040, and New Mexico is going for 75% below 2000 by 2050.
How do they plan to hit these targets? Here are a few examples courtesy of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability‘s report.
Buildings: In 2007 Boston passed a law requiring any private project over 50,000 square feet to earn a basic LEED certification. It estimates that 48 new building projects, covering over 22 million square feet are expected to save 15,000 metric tons of CO2 and $4 million of energy savings a year. And there are plenty of cities that are revamping public buildings. For example, in 2008 DC began upgrading its 120 public school facilities to at least LEED Silver standards; estimates say that by the project’s completion in 2015, each year it’ll save 26,000 metric tons of CO2 and $5.7 million in energy costs.
Public Transit: Seattle’s proposed expansion of public transit, from new streetcars which carry 450,000 riders to adding 36 miles to the transit system, are estimated to save 100,000-180,000 metric tons of CO2 a year; transit-oriented development will save even more. Just encouraging people to bike or walk can make a real difference — Chicago’s plans to add a 500 mile bike way network and 5000 new bike racks, would save 10,000 metric tons of CO2 a year by 2020.
Renewable Energy from Landfill: Columbia, Missouri set a renewable energy standard back in 2004, and to meet their goal the Columbia Biogas Energy Plant came online in June 2008. By converting landfill gas into energy, it can generate 2.1 megawatts of renewable power, enough to power 1,500 city homes. Now with new “bioreactor” technology, it’s estimated that in 2009 the landfill alone will generate “1.5 percent of the city’s energy from biogas, saving $1,194,248 and offsetting 15,929 tons of CO2.”
Promoting Solar Power Investments: for most homeowners, solar power doesn’t pay off. It can cost around $48,000 to install it, and if the homeowner moves, they have to keep paying the loan. So, states such as Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Virginia, and Washington have or are passing plans that let municipalities loan homeowners the upfront cost and then repay the loan through utility bills or property taxes.
Recycling: San Francisco’s comprehensive recycling program, which recycles food scraps as well as the regular stuff, and encourages recycling of construction & demo debris, has diverted 72% of waste from landfill, saving 302,000 tons of CO2 a year — that’s 4% of the city’s overall goals just from recycling.
Solar Powered This & That : Houston, Texas has run a pilot test of “20 floating solar-powered reservoir circulators (SolarBees), which improve public drinking water quality and reduce water treatment costs by replacing energy-intensive treatment methods.” After three years of experience, the pilot is now saving saving 2,190,000 kWh of energy, $769,000 in costs, and 1,436 tons CO2e per year.
In total, according to ICLEI: 200 US jurisdictions have created a baseline of their CO2 emissions, and 155 have set targets that will reduce CO2 emissions by1,360,000,000 metric tons by 2020 – “the equivalent of taking 25,000,000 passenger vehicles off the road for the next ten years” — and 6,800,000,000 metric tons by 2050.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even if we can’t pass cap and trade in DC, we can still play out some of it at the local level. In 2008, ten Northeastern and middle Atlantic states created the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, designed to “reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector 10% by 2018.” Although not perfect, it’s not a bad start — as the Progressive States Network notes,
revenues from the auctions will be dedicated to promoting energy efficiency in each state…. the RGGI system improves on an existing European “cap and trade” system by auctioning off all allowances, rather than giving incumbents free allowances and a windfall profit. And it much more severely restricts use of “carbon offsets,” such as planting trees or other alternatives, other than restricting pollution emissions by other companies through the trading system.
As I said at the beginning, I’m focused just on US politics, because I’m woefully ignorant of international municipal politics. But just to give you a sense of what’s going on around the globe, here’s a few tidbits. On December 14, Copenhagen’s mayor presented a document at the Copenhagen convention with CO2 emission targets for over 3000 cities. For example, according to C40 Cities, “a group of the world’s largest cities committed to tackling climate change,” London has set a target of 60% below 1990 baseline levels by 2025, Rotterdam is shooting for 50% by 2025, and Paris is shooting for 75% below 2004 baseline levels by 2050. Tokyo is shooting for a reduction of 20% by 2020, and Yokohama is going for 30% below 2004 levels by 2025 & 60% below 2004 levels by 2050. Australia’s capital cities recently committed to cutting their emissions by 41% by 2020. Madrid plans to get to 20% below 2004 baseline by 2020 and 50% below by 2050. Mexico plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12% by 2012. In October, 20 mayors of Indonesian cities signed an agreement to reduce CO2 emissions 60% from 1990 levels worldwide by 2050 through the World Mayors and Local Governments Climate Protection Agreement. And Seoul plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2030 — and create 1 million Green jobs in doing so (more on their ambitious plans tomorrow).
All of this activity is happening without a massive grassroots movement behind it. In fact, it’s happening while most national Enviro groups are still focusing their efforts on national and international standards.
As you can see, there’s plenty of room to play here — if we decide to stop putting so many of our chits on the DC board.
Up next: an example of a move we might try on the local board