Devolution Needed For Climate Action

Considering the backlash the federal government has received concerning climate initiatives (or perceived lack thereof) and the Kyoto Protocol, it has become apparent that action must be taken at the local level. With 75 percent of the world’s energy consumption and 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the world’s largest cities, change has to begin in each city. But as a recent article on the BBC news website points out, without personal motivation, people are reluctant to change their habits.

The article suggests that motivation may come from the process of devolution, putting the power of action into the hands of local governments, local businesses or corporations and local communities. This is achieved through initiatives that empower each entity and allow them to be involved in the decision-making process. Examples of these initiatives can be seen in many metropolitan areas throughout the US. In the summer of 2003, Boston’s mayor created the Green Building Task Force to promote LEED standards for new large-scale building projects as well as to make recommendations for greening existing structures. Recently, Washington D.C. became the first major city in the U.S. to require private developers to adhere to the US Green Building Council Standards. In addition, state and local governments are beginning to offer homebuilders initiatives to build green, creating a rise in local green building programs and ensuring that new homes meet strict energy standards established by local governments.

Beyond building standards, U.S. mayors are getting actively involved, thanks to the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement created by Seattle mayor Greg Nickels. Mayors who sign the agreement strive to meet or beat Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities, urge state and federal government to enact climate policies and urge Congress to pass legislation for greenhouse gas reduction. Utilities are beginning to feel the pressure from state governments to lower electricity usage and now offer energy audits for homeowners to assess their energy consumption and find ways to reduce their usage. Through tax free weekends and tax incentives on the purchasing of ENERGY STAR® qualified products, consumers have monetary as well as moral incentive to choose environmentally-conscious products. And consumers are responding. According to the inaugural BBMG Conscious Consumer Report, 9 out of 10 Americans consider themselves “conscious consumers” and are more likely to buy from companies that are environmentally-conscious.

The truth is, when a changing climate creates a crisis such as a water shortage in a major city like Atlanta, people will bond together and come up with inventive ways to meet these new challenges. The conundrum becomes how to make people aware of potential problems before there is a crisis. It’s important to let the politicians wrangle out the rhetoric on climate change, but it’s necessary to give the power to the people to change their world one city at a time.

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