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Corinne Ramey

Energy Smackdown! Cities Turning Green

Americans love reality television. We tune in by the millions to shows like American Idol, Survivor, and America's Next Top Model. Our eyeballs glued to the TV screens, we analyze and agonize over our favorite contestants, hoping and praying that so-and-so makes it to the next round and their competition gets booted off the show.

Several cities in Massachusetts have their own new reality show, called Energy Smackdown!, which pits teams of ten households against each other to see who can make the biggest energy reduction. Unfortunately, Energy Smackdown! -- you can watch episodes from last season online -- is decidedly less sexy or dramatic than America's Next Top Model or Survivor (I mean, we're talking energy-efficient freezers, biking to work, and compact fluorescent light bulbs here). But the creators of the show bring up an important point. In the absence of a solid national policy for decreasing carbon emissions and an energy policy that won't heat up the globe in the next several decades, cities have picked up the slack.

In an article in Sunday's Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin writes that environmental policy is increasingly becoming the domain of not the federal government, but of states and cities. "Even though national politicians are beginning to eye a federal carbon cap more seriously, the flurry of activity in state and local jurisdictions highlights a little-noticed reality: Most of the measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will be enacted outside the nation's capital," she writes.

Cities and states are fighting global warming in a variety of ways. Eilperin gives a few examples:

"In Massachusetts, the state demands that developers calculate and disclose the climate impact of their projects. In California, Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. has sued communities and power companies for failing to offset the greenhouse gases generated by their expansion plans. And Washington, D.C., officials are installing a new trolley line and bike rental kiosks in an effort to cut back on car trips within the city."

Pegeen Hanrahan, the mayor of Gainesville, Florida, echoed the importance of cities in her MayorTV interview. She said that Gainesville needs to expand upwards and not just turn into a mess of suburban sprawl. She envisions a kind of sustainable growth that includes widely-available public transportation and high-quality public schools in the city. "The only hope for doing it [growing sustainably] in any sort of way that doesn't decimate the natural environment is to use our cities more effectively and to build more like a Boston or a Washington or a New York than an Orlando, quite frankly," she said of sustainable growth in her city.

"Certainly it's become clear that cities are on the front lines of climate change issues, with over 730 mayors agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol, as Gainesville has, and yet still not having any kind of organized regulatory or even market-based programs at the federal level," she said.

What does the future hold? It's great that cities are picking up the federal slack, but will a new administration usher in a new climate policy? There's hope -- both Clinton and Obama have outlined fairly comprehensive energy plans and committed to reducing carbon emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 (the amount scientists say is necessary to keep global warming under control) through a cap-and-trade system with 100% of permits auctioned off. McCain has been slightly more slippery on climate change issues, refusing to commit to specific targets or numbers, and even repeatedly missing crucial votes on important climate change legislation. For the present, it looks like saving the planet is up to the cities.

Corinne Ramey: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 6:50 AM, May 07, 2008 in Energy & Environment
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