Land Use Transportation

Sustaining Raleigh

At Raleigh4All we tend to write about our local community. Our goal is to affect positive change on the opportunities afforded to every member of our city in a way that is inclusive in approach and equitable in outcome. In thinking about justice in our own city, extending the conversation to Raleigh’s place in the world provides opportunity for our hometown to be a force for good beyond its 145 square miles. Moreover, as difficult as it can be to establish broad public consensus across Raleigh’s political leadership, addressing climate change may be an opportunity to unify the disparate local interests.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did, perhaps, the best job of all of highlighting the criticality of this topic when they wrote:

“Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences with global warming of 1.5°C and beyond include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods (high confidence). Regions at disproportionately higher risk include Arctic ecosystems, dryland regions, small island developing states, and Least Developed Countries (high confidence). Poverty and disadvantage are expected to increase in some populations as global warming increases; limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050 (medium confidence).

Any increase in global warming is projected to affect human health, with primarily negative consequences (high confidence). Lower risks are projected at 1.5°C than at 2°C for heat-related morbidity and mortality (very high confidence) and for ozone-related mortality if emissions needed for ozone formation remain high (high confidence). Urban heat islands often amplify the impacts of heatwaves in cities (high confidence). Risks from some vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, are projected to increase with warming from 1.5°C to 2°C, including potential shifts in their geographic range (high confidence).”

The challenge with this topic is that it can feel insurmountable. Solving global climate change is patently global in nature. How can a city, a small sliver of the world, make a dent in such an issue? How can Raleigh matter in that solution?

In so many other topics, that last question is what drives so many local policy conversations. “How can Raleigh matter in that solution?” In affordable housing, “how can Raleigh matter in that solution?” In bringing our citizens closer together and engaging more of our population in the political process, “how can Raleigh matter in that solution?” In so many of the complex issues we all discuss over beers, around dinner tables, and on this website, we ask that question. And surprisingly enough, so many of those issues we already cover, can be a part of Raleigh helping with a solution to the challenge of climate change.

While this topic is somewhat new for engagement from cities, there are examples and ideas from which Raleigh can learn. New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (a cool idea in its own right) administers a volunteer-led initiative called NYC °CoolRoofs to help make the city’s buildings more energy efficient by applying a white, reflective surfacing to roofs on buildings across the city. The initiative’s website notes, “every 2,500 square feet of coated roof area can reduce New York City’s carbon footprint by one ton of emissions.”

The City of Toronto has introduced some of the most audacious goals through its Zero Emissions Buildings Framework and in the work of people like its former city planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. In a recent NPR interview, Jennifer stated, “When we provide people with real choices, better choices, it can open up our minds. We can change our minds about what we thought was the only way to live.”

Cities like New York and Toronto may give pause to a southern mid-major city in a nominally conservative state to actually move this topic forward, but Coral Gables, FL provides a framework for the public discourse that can help even more skeptical locales have this important discussion. Republican mayor of Coral Gables Jim Cason stated, “We look at it as a nonpartisan issue. It’s a fact that has to be dealt with, like potholes and everything else, but if you’re looking at it as a business, this is a tremendous business opportunity. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent here in Florida trying to save this wonderful quality of life we have.”

A fairly simple solution would be to introduce the United Nations The Essential Principles of Climate Literacy into school curriculums and/or extracurricular educational resources. In addition to expanding basic knowledge of causes and implications of climate change, this resource provides a foundational tool for teaching science on important, practical topics. Another great source of educational resources can be found at Cleanet.org, which, “steward[s] the collection of climate and energy science educational resources and to support a community of professionals committed to improving climate and energy literacy.”

Other ideas, beyond education, exist as well. Last fall CitiLab asked a handful of urban policy experts to weigh in on some ideas for tackling climate change from the confines of our urban boundaries. Highlights from those ideas were:

“Longer-term, cities can optimize, expand, and align transit and transportation systems with an understanding of future technology trends.”

– Annise Parker, former Mayor of Houston and president & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund

“Immediate steps by cities to make themselves more sustainable and resilient are possible, and many are already acting: committing to renewable energy, setting emissions targets, and pledging to stick to the Paris climate agreement goals.”

– Shelley Poticha, managing director, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program, Natural Resources Defense Council

“…the technology of mobility is changing with the advent of e-bikes, scooters, zero-emission buses, and an age-old biped technology called walking.”

– Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of Practice for Architecture & Urbanism (PAU) and author of A Country of Cities

“Clean-energy standards enable states to set really ambitious climate goals that are also achievable—while supporting emerging technologies that will be needed for climate progress.”

– Jameson McBride, energy and climate analyst, the Breakthrough Institute

“Upgrading homes to greater energy efficiency and enticing residents into transit or more efficient vehicles are the best ways cities can make a meaningful impact.”

– Emma Stewart, director of Urban Efficiency & Climate, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

The whole post (and all of its embedded links) is worth a read. The ideas are wide-ranging from creating more live, work, play spaces to reduce carbon-intensive transit to developing clean energy standards for all elements of the cities infrastructure. There are even ideas, like strongly integrating natural landscapes, trees, and greenery into the urban environment, where Raleigh excels already.

Raleigh can expand on these ideas, develop its own idiosyncratic interpretations of them, and create entirely new options. Perhaps most importantly, Raleigh must stop virtue signalling on climate change and take simple, tangible and straight forward steps to realize real change and progress in our community. Next week we will discuss some ways that our community can and should lead on this issue through engaging with our current policies and implementing more comprehensive and robust new ones.

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