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Climate Courage—Cities and States Matter, Too

Across America, local governments are leading the way with some of the most progressive transitions in the nation.

Green cities powered only by renewable energy sources—save money, their health, and our planet.  (Photo: Eviart / Shutterstock.com)

Green cities powered only by renewable energy sources—save money, their health, and our planet.  (Photo: Eviart / Shutterstock.com)

More than one in five Americans—that’s over 70 million of us—now live in a place committed to 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity—including 131 towns and cities, seven states and Puerto Rico.

With a Republican-controlled Senate and White House making federal action on climate change look less likely by the day, many hope that states and cities can help pick up the slack.

And such hope is not in vain.

The seven states already committed to carbon-neutral electricity—including two of the top nine carbon-emitters, California and New York—representing 14 percent of national emissions in 2016. With new clean-electricity bills being introduced in blue states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey and Illinois, further progress is expected soon.

Moreover, the clean-electricity transition is hardly limited to liberal bastions.

Pennsylvania, a purple state with a Republican-controlled legislature for the last eight years, is expected to have a 100 percent renewable-electricity bill introduced in its Senate for the second session in a row. The bill’s sponsor is Republican state Senator Thomas Killion, and among co-sponsors are four more Republicans also breaking rank.

All states with legislation now on the books have set mid-century targets; and New York, the  state with the most expeditious transition plan, is not only mandating victory by 2040 for 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity, but has committed to its whole economy being carbon-neutral by 2050.

Alongside this progress, across America, local governments are leading the way with some of the most progressive transitions in the nation. And with cities producing over 70 percent of carbon emissions globally , and just 100 cities contributing almost 20 percent of emissions, local municipalities can have a remarkable impact.

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Currently, out of the 131 cities and towns that have passed 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity legislation—many in states that are not taking action—80, including Washington, D.C., and Chicago, have pledged to meet this goal before 2040.

What’s more, there are already a handful of trailblazing cities and towns currently 100 percent powered by carbon-neutral electricity. This group of pioneers includes Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Georgetown, Texas; Greensburg, Kansas; Rock Port, Missouri; and Kodiak Island off the coast of Alaska.

And, surprisingly, Republican mayors led two of these advances.

Georgetown, Texas, population 70,000, sits in the center of a red state, and wind and solar provide most of its carbon-neutral electricity. Last month, a new solar farm the size of roughly 950 football fields began electrifying the town. Interviewed by Frontline, Mayor Dale Ross, who marshalled the renewable transition, explained the city’s motivation to move to 100 percent renewable electricity. It was for “long-term cost certainty,” he stressed. The move was “first and foremost…a business decision.”

Greensburg, Kansas—another red city making a green transition—suffered tornado devastation in 2007, causing roughly half of the city’s 1,500 residents to flee. But, amid destruction, Mayor Bob Dixson saw opportunity. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that Kansas offers the “third highest potential for wind energy in the U.S.” So, Mayor Dixson took action, and soon Greensburg was the second city in the country, after Burlington, Vermont, to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity.

At the national level, climate action has, tragically, become a political litmus test. So, let us spread the word that at the state and local level—fortunately—Americans across party lines are acting with courage and commonsense to save money, their health, and our planet.

Note to readers: It’s important to take care in not equating "100% renewable energy" and "carbon free" energy. Some states consider forms of biomass, e.g., wood and trash burning, to be renewable, but biomass produce carbon emissions. On the flip side, some count nuclear as "carbon free," but it is not renewable.

Frances Moore Lappé

Frances Moore Lappé

Frances Moore Lappé is the author of nineteen books, beginning with the acclaimed Diet for a Small Planet. Most recently she is the co-author, with Adam Eichen, of the new book, Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want. Among her numerous previous books are EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want (Nation Books).  She is co-founder of the Cambridge-based Small Planet Institute. Follow her on Twitter: @fmlappe

 

Zachary Field

Zachary Field serves as a writer and researcher at the Small Planet Institute, where he focuses on democracy reform, wealth inequality and climate change.

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