“Global warming” is like a general anesthetic. Yes, it accurately describes the trend in the global average temperature. But nobody lives in the global average temperature. Nobody works or plays in the global average temperature. Nobody gets anything done in the global average temperature.
(Is “global warming” better than “climate change”[i]? Enough already. See footnote.)
The impacts – the flooding, the extreme weather, the fires – hit home, not the “globe.” We cause the problem locally, primarily with our energy and transportation investments and choices. And most importantly, when you roll up your sleeves and get real about solutions, many of the key decisions are local: infrastructure investments, transportation options, energy choices.
I don’t mean to say for a minute that we don’t need state and national policy and international agreements; we desperately do. But while we’re clearing the path to those policies – and after we succeed – we can and must put shoulder to wheel in our lives and communities.
We must be, you might say, Powering the New Energy Future from the Ground Up.
And in communities across America and the world, we are. The successes and challenges of 22 of these communities are profiled in a terrific new report from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and Climate Solutions’ New Energy Cities program, available here.
These stories aren’t from the big, well-known leadership cities like Portland, Seattle, and New York. They’re from small and medium-sized communities. Many of them emerged from individuals and grassroots collaborations among community organizations. They employ local regulation and voluntary action. They feature broad local partnerships with utilities, businesses, workforce organizations, schools, and non-profits. They got a boost from federal recovery investments, and are developing their own funding models. They started with low-hanging fruit, and are building toward long-term energy transformation strategies.
They are – geographically and substantively – all over the map. That’s a good thing. Not all of them are motivated by climate. These cities, and thousands of others, are demonstrating that the clean energy transition is a solid foundation for building healthier communities and stronger local economies. Living, breathing local examples of that proposition can take us a long way toward embracing the imperative for climate solutions.
[i] In a “secret” 2003 polling memo, conservative pollster Frank Luntz advised Republicans to use “climate change” instead of “global warming.” Clever (kinda) climate communicators, said “aha, then ‘global warming’ it is!” Frank Luntz knows that nothing like that stays secret. He’s had a decade of laughs watching us argue over which is better, knowing full well that they are both profoundly useless – abstract, disengaging, completely outside the psychological scope of human agency. Both terms work splendidly, if your goal is to avert action. I’m going with “climate disruption.”