Since President Donald Trump chose to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, mayors and governors around the country have been expressing their defiant intention to pursue the agreement’s goals of constraining greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s great.
Now, those state and local leaders should go and think about whether they’re really doing what they can to reduce our nation’s carbon footprint.
The most important emissions-related decisions made by state and local leaders tend not to fall directly under the “emissions policy” header. The key emissions-reducing tool available to them is not buying hybrid vehicles for the local police or putting a green roof on City Hall.
State and city governments shape Americans’ carbon footprints through the policies they make about land use and transportation. If mayors and governors want Americans to emit less carbon, they should allow homes to be developed densely near people’s workplaces, and they should provide transit options that are attractive compared to driving.
They should especially do this if they govern a municipality in coastal California, where the mild climate allows people to use much less energy heating and cooling their homes.
Policies that effectively cap the growth of cities like San Francisco and Berkeley mean fewer people live there and more people live in places where they must air condition their homes in a blazing summer and drive a long distance to work.
I was amused, for example, that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose to highlight his support for the Paris Agreement by lighting up the new Kosciuszko Bridge in green. This new highway bridge is one of two major projects Cuomo has championed to widen a highway crossing over a waterway, while he has systematically underfunded and neglected New York City’s transit systems. (New York City’s clogged subways are controlled by the state government, not the city.)
Some municipal leaders have largely gotten these issues right. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has matched his anti-emissions rhetoric by making transit and density two cornerstones of his administration, fighting successfully for a dedicated sales tax increase to expand LA’s subways and bus service, and beating back efforts to limit dense residential development.
Now that other mayors and governors have scored their points by expressing their resistance to Trump on America’s participation in this non-binding agreement, they should take a moment to reflect on whether their jurisdictions are doing as much as Los Angeles to change their ways on emissions.
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