Seattle’s mayor leads the nation on global warming

  • J.M. McCord

 

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."

J.M. McCord is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). She writes in San Francisco.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...