Republican Mayor Works to Combat Climate Change and 'Do What's Best for the People'
The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) met late last month in Dallas to discuss how to move their cities forward in order to meet the challenges before them. Topics included energy related issues, the impact of pollution and climate change. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy was on hand to take part in a panel, where she expressed how leaders could avoid the animosity surrounding climate change by stressing the related concerns of health, safety and economics.
One of the leaders focusing on the environment and sustainability was five-term Mayor of Carmel, Indiana Jim Brainard.
Brainard was tapped to be on President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. He won first place honors from the 2008 Mayor’s Climate Protection Awards Program. The most exciting news in his bio … he is a Republican!
I interviewed Brainard by telephone upon his return from USCM to learn more about the programs he has implemented, and to inquire about his response to the overwhelming number of Republicans who push back on environmental regulations while hoisting the banner of climate change denial.
Direct about the fact that the party of environmentalist Teddy Roosevelt has become entrenched in refuting the findings of the larger scientific community, Brainard said, “You have to trust 97 percent of scientists. There’s no question that the Earth is warming. The numbers are what the numbers are.”
When I mentioned Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) branch of the party, Brainard suggested that he was “out-shouting”more moderate Republicans. He emphasized, “The Republican party needs to recognize that people in the United States want a clean environment for themselves and their descendants.”
Underscoring the non-partisan attitude that he saw prevailing in Dallas, Brainard informed me, “Everyone’s concerned about their city.”
Currently, Brainard serves as the co-chair of the Energy Independence and Climate Protection Task Force for the USCM. He has also signed their Climate Protection Agreement, which sets goals to “meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own [respective] communities.”
Brainard told me, “We need to start at the local level, cleaning up pollution, planting trees, making every city a better place to live. It originates locally. Everybody wants progress.”
Carmel, with a population of 85,000, has received the Indiana Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. Perhaps the reason Brainard has been repeatedly re-elected is because his constituency likes his sustainable initiatives. They include a long laundry list of efforts. In 2005, Brainard put forth an executive order for the city to purchase hybrid and bio-fuel vehicles. He spoke at length about installing roundabouts and their benefits, which eschews the usual traffic light intersection model. They conserve electricity and gasoline, while reducing air pollution. Tied in with this approach to traffic is Brainard’s commitment to an emphasis on more walkable areas and less “sprawl.”
In an effort to get on board with cutting edge technology, the city’s wastewater treatment plant adopted a process that yields high quality Biosolids, which is then utilized by local farmers as fertilizer. Simultaneously, it reduces “the amount of byproducts that end up in landfills.”
Indiana is number two in the country in terms of coal power generation; it also “leads the nation in coal ash ponds.” Brainard believes that alternative fuel sources must be cultivated “moving forward.”
When questioned about the “jobs card” and “war on coal” that is inevitably referenced by Republicans such as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Brainard stated that Indiana has 2,800 coal workers who he believes can be transitioned to new employment.
“The point is, this [coal] is not a major source of jobs. There is no reason to be polluting the air. We have to take into account lung disease and asthma,” Brainard said. He pointed out how the coal-fired plant in Indianapolis affects Carmel—due to the “northeast wind.” He added, “The entire region is impacted.”
When we conversed about President Obama’s task force and the efforts of the White House, he responded, “I think he’s [Pres. Obama] making progress … I wish this had happened years ago.”
Before we concluded, Brainard again revisited the actions of Republicans in the 1970s, and President Nixon’s part in creating environmental safeguards and the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“There are a lot of Republicans around who care about the environment. Clean air and clean water should be non-partisan ... We need to do what’s best for the people,” he concluded.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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