Climate Change has grown so ominous that individuals cannot have much of an impact on necessary solutions. (I know, this is environmental heresy.) However much a single person dedicates their lives to living sustainably, he or she cannot effect addressing this particular crisis unless a large percent of the population is also engaged. With seven billion people (9 billion by 2050) who need food, energy, transportation, and waste removal, a relative few are not going to change the environmental footprint of humanity’s effect on Climate Change on a level and speed that will matter. We have squandered too much time dragging our feet, too much time listening to folks offering to make the Climate Change crisis magically disappear with lies and denial.
But collectively in the form of cities around the world we can play an important role in what Michael Bloomberg describes as an alliance of cities.
Our new alliance unites 600m city dwellers in fight against climate change Cities are huge carbon emitters but are ideally placed to tackle climate change. When it comes to confronting climate change, the world’s cities are proving that there’s strength in unity. The historic climate agreement reached in Paris in December, which was approved by nearly all of the world’s nations, was made possible in part by the progress that cities have made by working together. Today, the two biggest coalitions of cities in the world – the EU-based Covenant of Mayors and the UN-backed Compact of Mayors – are forming an alliance to link more than 600 million city dwellers in the fight against climate change. (June 22, 2016) The Guardian
A city exists in much the way a single individual exists in our environment, though on a much larger scale. By the 2050 most of the world’s population are going to reside in our cities offering both great challenges and opportunities for dealing with Climate Change. Check out this incredible video (see below) of humanity’s move to cities over the millennia.
Watch 6,000 years of people moving to cities Humans have been building and living in cities for thousands of years. But only very recently — in the past few years — did the scales tip to more of us choosing to settle in cities than in rural areas. According to the United Nations, 54 percent of the world's population now lives in urban areas. That figure was 30 percent in 1950 and is expected to rise to 66 percent by 2050. In the video below, you can watch the stunning rise of human cities, from their humble origin in the Fertile Crescent in the year 3700 BC to the boom of the past century. (June 19, 2016) VOX
Each city around the world impacts our environment in similar ways—bringing in water, taking out waste, providing infrastructures, setting codes, and enforcing laws—acting more or less like huge living beings whose behavior towards our life support system matters a lot. The city you live in amplifies every impact you have on our environment. If your city is curbing its greenhouse gas emissions and recycling its waste so are you. In short, if your city is existing sustainably you are a part of that.
Each of us can significantly increase our effect on our world environment by becoming an integral part of our city’s efforts in addressing Climate Change.
Hundreds of Cities Commit to Emissions Limits Cities today host more than half of the Earth’s human beings and account for about 70 percent of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Now, 228 cities around the world are taking the lead on climate action, setting greenhouse gas reduction goals or targets. Action in these cities, with a combined population of 439 million people, could ensure that countries meet their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the national greenhouse gas reduction pledges embodied in the Paris Climate Agreement. At the UN’s annual climate conference in December 2015 in Paris, 195 countries adopted the world’s first universal, legally binding global climate deal. (June 9, 2016) Environmental News Service
However, cities can and should do much more than provide mechanisms to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the way we adapt to Climate Change, which will require emergency personnel to address extreme weather catastrophes and making our infrastructures more resilient, can only be accomplished by our local governments.
But our city governments can only do so much to address Climate Change. They must have their citizens engaged to be effective. They need the public’s attention for support and feedback on any climate actions cities take. But how do cities communicate the urgency behind Climate Change locally and get the public onboard? Oddly enough, city governments seem to have just as much trouble reaching the public as other well-meaning organizations. Either a lot of money or attention-grabbing theatrics are needed to wake the media up. Which is to say, our media is of limited use in Communication because their priority is making money, not informing the public of important stuff. That’s why our media has so much sports and pets and other such pander-mongering stuff on their front page instead of important information. Essentially, the media, as it presently functions, does not participate in helping communities address Climate Change because they still see the health of our continual existence as an issue outside of their bailiwick.
Yet, there are still many ways city governments can increase their effectiveness at communicating their critical role in addressing Climate Change to their citizens. Cites do get in the news, of course, with emergencies and press releases. They can do news spots—but often the media won’t show up unless there is something spectacularly exciting mixed in. They can create pamphlets and send out letters. That’s expensive so they don’t do a lot of that. They can go to public places like the public market or local zoos and hope people stop by their booth. Though, I suspect booths on Climate Change at public markets are not heavily attended.
A certain amount of gentle persuasion is needed to be get the media to pay attention to a city’s attempt to orchestrate Climate Change efforts. Public service announcements (“messages in the public interest disseminated by the media without charge”, Wikipedia) at prime-time media viewing would be helpful.
Also, there is a strategy the city of Rochester is already using to communicate with its citizens that could be increased dramatically: neighborhood associations (NAs). Much of how the City must address Climate Change can be messaged to the public via NA’s. Working with neighborhood associations are a major vehicle for the City to speak to all the city’s constituents. In my neighborhood association we meet with the police, City representatives, firemen, and businesses, and any group having a local impact. It doesn’t cost the City to have their officials meet regularity with neighborhood associations to explain what they are doing and listen for feedback. It’s kinda like extracurricular activities for them.
Neighborhood associations have the ability to reach most of the folks in their neighborhood by email lists, web sites, events, programs, and (if need be) going door-to-door campaigning. There are thirty-three neighborhoods in our City but not all of them have associations. The City could find ways to increase NAs with a variety of volunteer programs.
Just one more thing, in Rochester, NY, our county (Monroe County) has a bigger footprint than the City. (The reverse is the case with Portland, Oregon.) This means, for example, the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) must not only become the leader in addressing Climate Change for its continents, the City’s CAP must also be a stimulus for kicking our sluggish county into gear.
There’s no way around it, size matters when addressing Climate Change. The time when ad hock individual efforts can bring down our planet’s temperature are over. Humanity must act as a single entity to make a dramatic shift from business as usual. Cities are local institutions already in place that are responsible for our collective wellbeing. That makes cities crucial in our efforts to address Climate Change.