It’s been a pretty extraordinary couple of days here in Seattle — "climatepalooza," as Mayor Greg Nickels jokingly dubbed it.
Yesterday I went to a small private luncheon with Seattle’s movers and shakers. The purpose was to honor both the Green Ribbon Commission‘s work and visiting author Elizabeth Kolbert. I got to meet the mayor, who was genial and optimistic, reinforcing my sense that he’s a bit of a Forrest Gump figure in all this. He got a good idea — the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement — from his staff, jumped on it, and now has gotten carried away on a tsunami he doesn’t pretend to control. I give him full credit for recognizing and riding the wave. It’s a case of accidental greatness, but accidental greatness is greatness nonetheless. His name is on its way to the history books.
Kolbert — obviously nervous and uncomfortable with public speaking — spoke briefly. She said she hopes Seattle is able to achieve these goals and that others emulate it, because if not, "all hope is lost." Everyone laughed nervously. She didn’t.
Later in the day, Al Gore shared his famed powerpoint presentation to a closed audience of 500 or so. I wasn’t able to make it, but I heard the usual glowing reports. Official Friend of Grist (OFoG) Eric de Place saw it and shares a few impressions.
That evening, I sat down with Kolbert for about an hour. Everything was going great. On the way there, I picked up a screw-top bottle of wine and two small Starbucks cups (she had jokingly mentioned at lunch that she would need a drink by then, and really, isn’t that a service all interviewers should provide?), caught my bus on time, and found a great, quiet spot. So it just figures that 15 or 20 minutes into our discussion, I glanced down to notice that my voice recorder wasn’t recording. Feel the professionalism! I blame the wine. So … look forward to my exciting latter-half of an interview with Kolbert, coming soon!
This morning, as I mentioned, there was a press conference to announce the recommendations of Nickels’ Green Ribbon Commission. More on the recommendations in a second. First a few notes on a couple of the notable speakers, all of whom impressed with their brevity.
Commission co-chair (and OFoG) Denis Hayes started out by making two points. First, this is a big deal. The 219 mayors involved represent over 44 million Americans — a cumulative population larger than 90% of the countries participating in Kyoto. And second, it’s particularly notable that the commission forthrightly addressed the personal vehicle — the third rail in these discussions. The car, he said, is the hard part.
Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope had only one point: this isn’t enough. It’s only a start, a baby step. He called on Seattle to be the first city to go completely off fossil fuels. "Seattle, lead again."
Representative Jay Inslee (also a Grist contributor) had three points — three reasons for optimism. First, the ice isn’t only melting in the Arctic, it’s melting in D.C. Congress is coming around to realize this is a real problem. Second, we can do this (and Inslee’s Apollo Plan shows us how!). Third, you can do something: vote for Initiative 937!
And finally, there was Gore. I won’t try to summarize all his remarks. He celebrated Seattle’s leadership and called it the beginning of a sea change. He said that global warming has been disguised as a partisan political issue, but it’s not. It’s moral, ethical, even spiritual — it goes to the essence of who we are. It’s about redefining our species’ relationship to the planet.
He conceded that Kyoto is not enough, but made a great point: Right now, the maximum action we’re able to imagine is insufficient. But once you set the challenge and start thinking about it, your imagination expands. You start asking new questions. New opportunities open up.
We won’t just find economic opportunities, he said, though those are great. We will find the opportunity that every generation seeks: The opportunity to join together behind a common moral purpose. And he also said this. At a couple of points, his voice cracked and I was sure he was actually going to cry. He seemed genuinely inspired by what was happening. It’s enough to choke a guy up! A sissy guy, anyway. Not me. Ahem.
So, finally, more on the Green Ribbon Commission’s recommendations. I read the full report as I was waiting for the event to start, and I’m quite impressed by its breadth and ambition. Amazing what you can do when everyone involved isn’t just jockeying for subsidies. It really points up the poverty and narrowness of most of what’s been proposed at the national level.
Here’s a chart summarizing their recommendations:
Action Plan 2012: Seattle’s Six-Year Effort to Meet or Exceed The Kyoto Protocol Target
|Recommendations||Tons CHG Reduction|
|Reduce Seattle’s Dependence on Cars||170,000 tons|
|1. Significantly Increase the Supply of Frequent, Reliable and Convenient Public Transportation|
|2. Significantly Expand Bicycling and Pedestrian Infrastructure|
|3. Lead a Regional Partnership to Develop and Implement a Road Pricing System|
|4. Implement a New Commercial Parking Tax|
|5. Expand Efforts to Create Compact, Green, Urban Neighborhoods|
|Increase Fuel Efficiency and Use of Biofuels||200,600 tons|
|6. Improve the Average Fuel Efficiency of Seattle’s Cars and Trucks|
|7. Substantially Increase the Use of Biofuels|
|8. Significantly Reduce Emissions from Diesel Trucks, Trains and Ships|
|Achieve More Efficient and Cleaner Energy for Our Homes and Businesses||316,000 tons|
|9. Maintain City Light at Zero Net Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Meet Load Growth Through Conservation and Renewable Energy Resources|
|10. Substantially Increase Natural Gas Energy Conservation|
|11. Strengthen the State Energy Code|
|12. Reduce Seattle Steam’s Use of Natural Gas|
|Build on Seattle’s Leadership||Policy Action|
|13. Continue City of Seattle’s Strong Leadership Example|
|14. Mobilize the Entire Community|
|15. Create the Seattle Climate Partnership|
|16. Leverage Regional and State Action for Climate Solutions|
|Sustain Our Commitment||Policy Action|
|17. Direct More Resources to the Challenge|
|18. Monitor and Report on Progress|
|Actions Already Underway|
|Clean Car Standards||25,000 tons|
|Appliance Efficiency Standards||9,500 tons|
Hopefully Nickels will really follow through on this stuff and other cities will follow suit. Hopefully this really is the beginning of a sea change. It better be. We’re running out of time.