In 2017, American Cities must Act to Save the Planet.

The unhealthy air of Los Angeles © Alex Rivest

On January 20th, 2017, the United States federal government will assume a position on global climate change that is inconsistent with decades of data, the laws of physics and undisputable fact: planet Earth is warming and human behavior is causing it. From the West Wing of the White House to the Environmental Protection Agency, the highest and most influential branches of government will attempt to turn the truck that is America towards the proverbial cliff and accelerate. We are beyond the point where we can rely on top-down governmental action to combat an uncertain future. American cities need to start doing their part. It is in the cities where our voices are heard the loudest and where concerned individuals and groups must take this battle.

Can American cities alone solve global climate change? No. As a planet, we need to both stop adding warming gases into the atmosphere and start actively removing our existing carbon dioxide legacy. Removing the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is neither cost effective nor possible for cities to accomplish. However, individual cities can make real and economically beneficial moves to slow and reduce their carbon footprint.

The idea of becoming carbon neutral means that the all city, business, residential, government, and transportation infrastructures come from entirely renewable sources. That is the long term goal. The short term goal needs to be a drastic reduction in current emissions. This can and must happen today. This is where you come in.

For those of us who care about the planet our kids will inherit:

“Couch anger” and Facebook despair simply will not cut it anymore. We must actively promote sanity and fact-driven decision making towards policies that help protect against the worst effects of climate change.

I am calling on everyone reading this to become locally active. Your voice may feel small at the federal level, but it can roar at the city level. Find out who your city council members are, who your mayor is and who your city manager is. Write them all letters calling on them to set long-term goals to become carbon neutral. Ask them to start with a goal that is in line with what many progressive cities around the world are aiming for:

Reduce city greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.

There are many cities that have set this exact target and some are part of a group called the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. In this network, cities of all sizes from all over the globe share methods and ideas to become carbon neutral in intelligent ways while aiming for the reductions listed above.

Ask your city to set the same goals as members of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and to learn from the plethora of freely available reports, resources, and blueprints on their website. The cities in the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance have literally outlined how a city can set bold carbon-cutting goals and how a city can achieve those goals: HERE IT IS!

There is really no response that city staff or your elected representative can give as to why becoming carbon neutral is a bad idea anymore. They would either be using old facts or misrepresented notions. The argument that man-made climate change is not real does not hold up to scientific consensus, nor does it hold up to political consensus. For the science, it is well summarized in the yearly IPCC reports. Politically, it has to be noted that The Paris Climate Agreement was signed by every single country in the world. There is literally no single other issue that one could organize 194 countries to support and agree upon. The science is that established and the consequences so profound that the world has come together to agree that we need to be proactive NOW.

Think about this for a second, the only opposition to the facts of human-driven climate change come from a few hundred political hacks in this country alone. That is it. Even big oil, who these political entities seem to want to protect, know climate change is happening.

Sea ice. Will there be any by the end of the century? © Alex Rivest

Economically, solar power is as cheap as coal now and going green in the state of California has been a boon for the economy, attracting more than $27 Billion in private equity capital to California: money that has fueled the creation of more than 500,000 jobs since 2006. However, those few hundred political hacks hold a lot of power and that power can only be countered by action from people like you. What you should do:

While you start discussions (email, call) with your local politicians, start a petition in your city and collect as many signatures as you can to support your city’s reduction in carbon emissions. Create an online petition, go door-to-door, and find youth groups to help collect local signatures. Find like-minded community members on sites like Nextdoor.com and organize together. Figure out what group members feel like they are good at and split up the work. Write an op-ed in your local paper, show up at every city council meeting and make your voice heard. Bring lots of people with you always. It is the era of being the squeaky wheel for what is right.

While the City Council or local government is considering what can be done in the long term, they should start by immediately requesting a green policy that addresses climate change in the City’s Annual Action plan and short-term Strategic Plan. Ask that City Council members request that alternative “green” options always be presented when city staff is asked for budgets, proposals, and requests for bids for any new projects. This way, the city always has the option to vote on a green option.

In the era of Trump, fake news, and factless policy decisions, it is up to each one of us to fight for what we believe in. For those of us who care about the planet we will leave our kids, if you are looking for a place to try and make a difference, where you CAN make a difference. Look local.