Cities, towns and villages have always been at the forefront of climate and environmental innovation. They’re where the challenges of buildings, traffic, and electricity play out in some of the most concentrated and complex ways. They embody the challenges at a human scale – and the opportunities.
Over the decades of efforts that finally led to the Paris agreement, local communities have been testing out the solutions, from micro-grids to ecodistricts.
Political leadership of local elected officials has even been a force in galvanizing national and global action. At the beginning of this century – when climate politics was much more stagnant than today – Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels thought up the US Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement and got hundreds of mayors to declare their commitment to local footprint reductions.
Today we have Paris. We have the Clean Power Plan if it survives court challenges. But the concerted, local support of communities that stand behind aggressive national and state action is as important as ever. Consider Fort-ZED, the zero net energy district being developed in Fort Collins, CO, or Oberlin, Ohio where the college is leading a sustainable redevelopment initiative, communities are flashpoints of political will, as well as test beds for technical innovation.
And they matter for another reason that is growing clearer and clearer. Psychologically, local action keeps the issue alive and vibrant in a way that policy discussions simply can’t. It’s human nature to look around, see nobody taking action on a huge issue such as climate change, and say to ourselves, “Well, it can’t be so bad or other people would be doing something.” The commitment and involvement of people we know, in reshaping our community, is a powerful reminder of both the need and the opportunity.