Finally, in his inauguration speech, President Obama spoke some of the words we so badly need to hear from him: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
Given the Congress he has been dealt, there is little that he can actually do that requires Congressional approval. But those working at other levels of government should feel reassured.
And there are critical initiatives at other levels, planning various efforts to mitigate climate change, not just adapt to it with fortifications.
Both the State California and the Province of Quebec have now instituted cap-and-trade policies to try to curb carbon emissions. Cap-and-trade may not be everyone’s preferred approach to mitigation, but it is a start, and the two jurisdictions are attempting a concerted effort – in itself an important event.
Governors of some states – New York and New Jersey, so battered by Hurricane Sandy come to mind – are determined to protect their coasts from the predicted greater storms accompanying climate change, and they are also exploring mitigation, seeking ways to reduce carbon emissions.
But what if a state governor or provincial premier provides no leadership, or even worse, like Governor Rick Scott of Florida, still denies that climate change is human-caused? The four counties of southeast Florida provide us with a remarkable model for response.
The counties are Monroe (includes Key West and the Everglades), Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Five million people live there, responsible for 37% of the state economy. Political leaders from both political parties have formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, ratified by all four counties in late 2009 and early 2010. Last month they held their 4th annual meeting.
Using the best science available, they are responding to what is already happening and preparing for what’s ahead. Rising sea level, salt-water intrusion into underground aquifers and increased violence of storms bashing the coast are their major concerns. And they should be concerned – all the maps of rising sea level indicate that southeast Florida is one of the most vulnerable regions in the US.
Although adaptive engineering (raised and rerouted roads, pumps on canals, protected buffer areas to create resilience) understandably dominate their plans, they also plan to reduce carbon emissions and to create and encourage rapid public transit. Most importantly, though, they show us that significant action can occur at the county level.
Probably the most effective of all the initiatives are occurring at the city level. The World Mayors Council on Climate Change emphasizes initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. At their meeting three months ago, chaired by the mayor of Seoul, they said the appropriate things, but many of the 260 cities represented are small, and real action is limited. Still, the Council is an important one if only for political reasons.
The most impressive global organization though is C40 Cities Climate Change Leadership Group. Membership in C40 depends on the existence of actual action to mitigate carbon emissions. The mayors of the 63 included megacities and innovator cities share efforts to reduce carbon emissions, providing models for other cities and national governments. This month Vancouver, Oslo, Venice and Washington,D.C. were invited to join.
As NYC Mayor Bloomberg points out, city government has the ability to be ‘nimble’, able to take action quickly.
Adaptation to climate change of course remains essential everywhere on the planet. But mitigation of carbon emissions is not a futile hope. President Obama may not be able to deliver Congressional action to reduce carbon emissions, but he can encourage nimbleness at the state, county and city level. His endorsement can only help.
Now we have to find some way to encourage Canada’s Prime Minister Harper to say something helpful.