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Seattle and Sierra Club Lead on Climate Change

People outside Seattle probably have an image of software moguls, coffee, grunge and fish flipping through Pike Place Market. At the root of those easy stereotypes is the fact that Seattle is a city of innovation. It's hard to deny that, off in this rain-shrouded corner of the country, Seattle comes up with some pretty cool ideas.

Seattle has now broken into the national consciousness with the boldest idea of all. While national leaders twiddle their thumbs on global warming, Seattle and Mayor Greg Nickels have laid down a challenge: American cities will lead the way on solving global warming by committing to a smart, clean energy future.

Nickels' challenge set off an unprecedented response: As of May 4, 2006, 230 mayors from 40 states representing 45 million Americans already have followed Seattle's lead by signing the "U.S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement." They pledged to reduce global warming carbon dioxide pollution in their cities to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 (seattle.gov/mayor/climate/).

It is a promise cities can keep, but they have to work at it. In March, former Vice President Al Gore joined Nickels in releasing the recommendations of his Green Ribbon Commission where business, environmental and governmental leaders were asked to develop pragmatic and effective solutions.

Fortunately, there are solutions at hand -- cleaner vehicles, alternatives to autos, energy efficiency and clean energy sources. We can cut our dependence on oil, reduce pollution, benefit public health, save money and create great places to live.

Scientists have concluded that burning fossil fuels -- such as oil, coal and natural gas -- to power our cars, homes and businesses is causing global temperatures to rise. This heating of the earth poses a serious threat to our health, safety and environment. The headlines bear out this fact on a regular basis, warning us of melting ice caps and monster hurricanes. Locally, it means a reduced snow pack (our summer water supply), more winter flooding and an increased risk of forest fires.

The American people are listening, they are concerned and they want action. But the federal government is failing to act, so we look to our mayors and other local leaders who are taking the lead to curb global warming. Local businesses, builders, faith groups, environmentalists and labor unions are working together to make their cities more livable and vibrant while lowering energy bills, creating good jobs and tackling a global problem.

At first global warming can seem overwhelming, but Seattle is proving that individuals -- and individual cities -- can make a huge difference. It's all about providing the tools to affect change. Think about it like recycling. You can tell people to recycle, or you can provide them with green bins and a collection service. You can tell people we need to address global warming, or you can give them clean transportation and energy options.

Seattle has shown it is possible to reduce heat-trapping emissions, lower energy bills, save taxpayer dollars and protect the environment. As more cities join Seattle, collective local action can turn the tide against global warming.

For the Sierra Club, that is a message that speaks to our soul. The Sierra Club has started a "Cool Cities" campaign, dedicated to doubling the number of cities signed on to Nickels' initiative. We will use the example set by Seattle in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to help cities achieve their goals.

Don't be dismayed by the bad news that leaders at the federal level refuse to even acknowledge the growing threat of global warming. The good news is that we have the tools today to reduce harmful emissions, and cities of all sizes are stepping up to pursue innovative energy solutions. Cool cities such as Seattle literally are re-energizing our nation, proving that we can solve global warming one city at a time.

For more information, please contact Jessica Eagle at 206.378.0114 x308 or jessica.eagle@sierraclub.org.

(This story is adapted from an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Carl Pope and Michael McGinn. Carl Pope is the executive director of the Sierra Club. Michael McGinn is a Sierra Club local leader.)