SALT LAKE CITY — A nationwide survey that taps the mayors of the country's largest cities shows that urban leaders are not waiting on the federal government to take definitive action to blunt the effects of climate change.
Instead, more than half of those officials — including Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker — are logging efforts that show measurable impacts when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their respective cities.
"Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Actions in America’s Cities" is the latest of three national surveys that document ground-level efforts to reduce emissions and better prepare for climatic events.
In Utah, mayors of five cities participated in the survey of 282 cities sponsored by the U.S. Council of Mayors.
Findings released Tuesday show:
Nearly one-third of cities reported quantifiable reductions in overall emissions by the city at large.
Forty percent of all cities in the survey are now working with residents to develop a climate adaption plan.
More than 75 percent of all cities in the survey now have plans in place to respond to power outages.
Half of the cities that experienced a power outage within the past five years are now modifying those plans.
“While Washington is talking about cutting carbon to protect our planet, mayors and their constituents are taking action across the board with millions of Americans actually doing something about it,” said Tom Cochran, executive director and chief executive officer of U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Our USCM Climate Center with 1,060 mayors is leading the way, and mayors across the globe are not waiting for their national governments," Cochran said. "Others talk about the future; mayors are walking toward our future. They are making a difference. This survey proves it.”
Becker said he's definitely seen the paradigm shift among mayoral leaders in the country since 2002, when Salt Lake City signed onto the Kyoto Protocol on global warming on the eve of the Salt Lake Winter Games.
"We are seeing communities and states across the country address climate change for the reality that it is," he said. "For some places it has been a shocking awakening through storm events that were inconceivable a decade or two ago. You will find very few city leaders across the country who stand by some ideological principle with the science and the effects that we are already seeing."
In the Salt Lake area, Becker said snowpack is diminishing and melting earlier, prompting leaders to examine new ways of shoring up water supplies in the future. A shortened winter plus increasing temperatures stoke greater vulnerability to wildfires and a renewed urgency to protect the watershed, which is cradle of the water supply for nearly a half-million people, he added.
"All of this means we have to be planning today for how we are going to change in the future the way we provide that water to users in our valley," Becker said. "Part of that is trying to understand as well as we can what is happening now and what is most likely to happen decades from now."
In the survey, city leaders overwhelmingly pointed to a switch to energy-efficient lighting as the most promising way to curb emissions, but Becker said planning needs to go beyond that "low-hanging" fruit.
While it's easy to paint a target on the back of industry — and the Environmental Protection Agency is invoking tighter standards on power plants — people need to look around their own cities and neighborhoods for solutions, he said.
"We need to look at how are communities develop and how we get around," Becker said. "In a way, this parallels what we need to do for air pollution. We need to make it easier for people to drive less by providing better transit. It is the most effective thing we can do."
Lehi, Sandy, South Jordan and Taylorsville also participated in the survey.
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