Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Act Locally
distributed 6/30/17 - ©2017

Our good friend, Gerald Iversen of Simple Living Works!, produces a weekly podcast. In a recent episode, he interviews Peter Sawtell. Listen as "we catch-up on faith-based environmental justice efforts during the past year and then consider prospects and strategies for the short and medium range future."

"Think globally, act locally." So says a common saying about peacemaking and social change.

When we're addressing the crisis of climate change, the "think globally" part is essential. But the "act locally" can be neglected.

If we put all of our attention on international agreements like the Paris Climate Accord (still a commitment by 194 of the signing countries!), or worry about devastating national policies in the age of Trump, local may seem like the wrong scale for our engagement.

Some wonderful news this week is a reminder, though, reminds us that "local" is where to find some of the most important and exciting expressions of climate action.

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The news came from Miami Beach, the site for this year's meeting of US mayors. As Inside Climate News reported:

The United States Conference of Mayors, which includes both Republican and Democratic mayors from cities across the nation, adopted a series of resolutions that are far more assertive than federal climate policy, including a pledge supporting cities' adoption of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

There were dissenting votes on some of those resolutions, but the one affirming the ambitious commitment for US cities to run entirely on renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2035 passed unanimously.

New Orleans' mayor, Mitch Landrieu, staked out the importance of cities in addressing climate change. "If the federal government doesn't act, it doesn't mean we don't have a national policy; the federal government doesn't occupy the only place on this. ... Mayors have to respond to circumstances. We have to keep moving no matter what."

Of course, it is not only in the United States that mayors are taking a lead. Mayors are important, whether or not their national government is stepping up to the plate on climate action. Take a look at the map of participating cities for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. That covenant involves 7,453 cities, representing 680.5 million people worldwide and 9.39% of the total global population.

How nice, you might say, that so many mayors have signed on for climate action. But, really, isn't that just political posturing? What can cities do about such a global problem?

I'm so glad you asked!

The specifics will shift depending on the local details, but there are many ways that local communities are essential leaders in the movement for climate justice and clean energy.

In this short list, I'll draw on what I've seen recently through two Colorado groups where Eco-Justice Ministries is closely involved: Wind and Solar Denver and the Colorado Coalition for a Livable Climate.

  • Cities have the economic power to push major changes in electrical generation. Many cities negotiate franchise agreements with an electrical provider, and they can use that relationship to negotiate for more renewable energy, and utility-administered services like energy audits. Some cities own their own generating facilities (Fort Collins in Colorado, for example), and citizens can take direct action on their power mix. In 2015, the municipal utility in the mountain ski town of Aspen, Colorado, reached 100% renewable power.

  • Cities and counties make countless decisions about transportation systems, ranging from the routes of busses and light rail, to the timing of traffic lights, the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles, and whether the city is "bike friendly" or easily walkable. A variety of efficient transportation options is essential to cutting carbon emissions.

  • Cities own and manage a lot of property. Is there an emphasis on energy efficiency in buildings, and for the vehicle fleet? Is the city installing solar panels on their buildings, or on public land? Proper choices can slash emissions, and build regional systems for energy stewardship.

  • It is often cities that establish and enforce building codes and zoning regulations. The kind of buildings are constructed, and where they are located, will shape energy use for decades to come.

Local actions -- in cities, counties, and regional settings -- are showing the way for effective global actions. (The city of Denver, for example, has set sustainability goals to be reached by 2020, including targets for energy, climate, and transit-accessible housing.) Smaller communities can be more responsive to citizen's wishes than states and nations, and they can take on innovative new programs that would not be workable on a larger scale.

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For those of us in the US, this weekend's 4th of July holiday is rooted in our national birthday. But the holiday really celebrates the democratic interplay through the full range of our national community -- towns and cities, counties and states, as well as the national level -- in government, business and voluntary organizations.

It is in local setting that we most easily can "be the change you want to be." Our cities and towns can be -- and often are -- committed and creative leaders in addressing climate change.

This weekend, think globally and nationally, of course. Take some time, too, to reflect on what's happening in your own community, and what more can be done.

"Think globally, act locally" is sound advice. Think creatively, and act persistently.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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