Time for U.S. elected leaders to address climate change issues

By Saba Long

“There is no debate in Germany about climate change,” Iris Shultz of the German consulate nonchalantly remarked during a recent Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable on urban sustainability.  The statement clearly shows the difference in stating an issue rather than politicizing it.

Just under a quarter of the Germany’s electricity is gathered from renewable sources. While the average home size is much smaller than the United States, the cost of residential electricity is more. Shultz said it is because their energy rates are intended to modify behavior.

To be sure, cities like Atlanta are leading the urban sustainability conversation in our country while Washington, D.C. has remained stuck in an intertwined loop of partisan suspicion and “that’s too far away from the present to care about” mentality. Through initiatives such as the Better Buildings Challenge, embracing urban farming and encouraging transit-oriented development, we are making progress in becoming a greener, smarter city.

Atlanta also leads in sales of the totally electric Nissan Leaf and sales of Tesla vehicles —  far greater than the company expected.

Nationally, we have much work to do in tackling climate change and urban sustainability. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney set to tackle carbon pollution in the state. Fast forward to his presidential campaigns, and there was a gradual yet obvious shift from calling it a man-made problem to something too complex to spend money solving.

But we’re already spending money on its effects.

Superstorm Sandy put many coastal communities on notice of the continued and accelerated rise of sea levels and beach erosion, costing the federal government and states millions of dollars. American energy consumption has impacted our national security as well.

Yet climate change and sustainability conversations have generally been pushed aside under the guise of not wanting to disrupt the financial markets.

Ironically, conservatives rarely acknowledge the aggressive sustainability measures taking place within our various military branches.

From building a fleet of electric vehicles to the installation of wind turbines the U.S. Armed Services have made this not only about saving money but saving lives.

In a 2012 report, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus stated, “Energy reform will make us better fighters. In the end, it is a matter of energy independence and it is a matter of national security. Our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum makes us vulnerable in too many ways.”

If the folks tasked with keeping our country safe from threats recognize we need reform around energy and environmental matters why exactly are our political leaders still debating the issue?

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1 comments
Bob Munger
Bob Munger

Sounds like I missed an important Roundtable. It is always good to look at what other cities and nations are doing to raise the bar on sustainability. 

Atlanta has done a really good job with sustainability in the realm of architecture, but a poor job in the bigger picture of city planning, urban design and transportation. Much of this is a legacy of the rapid growth during the 70's, 80's and 90's, when the almighty, single-occupant automobile reigned supreme in the minds of city and transport planners.

This has turned into a liability for Metro Atlanta, as it was recently ranked 220 out of 222 US cities for urban sprawl. The recent defeat of the transport funding referendum may have been a blessing in disguise, as it was still too beholden to 20th Century auto-centric planning.

It is time for bold ideas Atlanta. It's not just about climate change (which alone should compel us to action). It's about the economy and jobs, too.  Atlanta produces neither petroleum nor automobiles in sizable numbers. Yet it is highly dependent on both., leading to the outflow of tens of millions of dollars annually.

Americans are increasingly rejecting suburban sprawl with their feet and legs.  Automobile ownership and travel are down. The downward trend began before the Great Recession hit, and has since continued.

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