This mayor sees a different shade of green

  • Greg Nickels

    Robin Laananen, Seattle Weekly
 

NAME Greg Nickels

VOCATION Mayor of Seattle, D, elected in 2001

AGE 49

NOTED FOR Starting a mayoral "green team" to combat global warming

HE SAYS "If we expect (people in) the community to change their habits, we need to lead by example."

 

Early this year, while the Pacific Northwest endured one of the driest winters on record, 141 countries ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to help curb global warming. The United States was not among them.

To Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle, the national no-show provided an opportunity for action on a smaller scale. "Local government can be a catalyst," he says. "In a lot of ways, we can try things that are risky and show the private sector that it is safe."

In February, Nickels challenged 141 cities to join Seattle in meeting or exceeding Kyoto Protocol guidelines, which call for a 7 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2012. One hundred and sixty-five cities from across the country, including Boston, New York, Albuquerque and Las Vegas, have now pledged their support for those goals.

And on June 13, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a unanimous resolution, sponsored by Nickels, that urges Congress to recognize global warming as a human-induced threat and enact the Kyoto policies. It is "inevitable" that the federal government will begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Nickels says. "The sooner it happens, the better," he says. "The danger is in waiting."

Nickels says that recent strange weather events —severe hurricanes in Florida, unusually destructive mudslides in California, drought in the Pacific Northwest — have given Americans, himself included, insight into the potential impacts of global warming. "On an intellectual level, I understood that the science (of global warming) was very clear," he says. But "this winter, it really came home."

To guide Seattle’s march toward the Kyoto Protocol goals, Nickels created a "Green Ribbon" task force in February. Denis Hayes, a co-founder of Earth Day, and Orin Smith, the former president and CEO of Starbucks, head the group. At the end of the year, the task force will present a plan to the mayor that sets "attainable" emissions goals for the entire city. Seattle has already reduced emissions from municipal operations by more than 60 percent and is on track to reduce net emissions to zero by the end of this year. Seattle City Light, the public electric utility, has made a major shift to cleaner power sources. About 80 percent of its energy comes from hydroelectric, which comes with its own environmental baggage. But the utility recently dropped a contract with a coal-fired plant in order to sign a deal with a wind farm. Additionally, the city’s "green fleet" of municipal vehicles now runs on biodiesel and electric power.

Seattle received the 2005 City Livability Award at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and was named one of the country’s five most sustainable cities on World Earth Day. Across the city, the mayor’s environmental efforts receive standing ovations from crowds. Though the press has dubbed Nickels the "green mayor of the Emerald City," and he and his family recently invested in a low-flow washing machine, he says he has never considered himself an environmentalist. Protecting the environment, he says, is just an obvious way to safeguard the health of the city that he’s served for over 30 years.

Although Nickels was overwhelmed by the unanimous support for his climate control resolution, he says actions need to follow those promises, even in the shadow of an unsupportive national government: "We have the opportunity to push the envelope and get people thinking, even when it is not politically popular."

The author writes from San Francisco.

High Country News Classifieds
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...