How Small Cities Can Act on Climate and Inequality

By Justin Talbot Zorn, JAMN Steering Committee member, Truman National Security Fellow, Public Policy Consultant, Meditation Teacher


This year, as global average temperatures reach unprecedented highs, arctic sea ice recedes to record lows, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceeds 400 parts per million, Congress is—predictably—focused on cutting funding for environmental protection and dismantling the Clean Power Plan.

While there are some long-term prospects for federal-level action on climate, the near-term view from Capitol Hill is still bleak. For climate campaigners, environmental justice activists, and people generally concerned with the sustainability of human civilization, the writing is on the wall: Real action rests with states and localities.

Oregon, Hawaii, and Vermont have acted to eliminate the use of coal in power generation and, along with other forward-looking states, have set strong renewable energy mandates. Thanks to surprising alliances between libertarians and progressives, some deep red states like Georgia have made green policy choices, particularly on solar. Many of the world’s largest cities from New York to London to Singapore are making tangible commitments to carbon neutrality. Through initiatives like the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Compact of Mayors, the major cities that account for more than 70 percent of global population are spearheading innovative and potentially transformative steps to decarbonize the global economy.

Still, some of the most promising ideas and efforts are actually coming from small cities.

Boulder, Colorado (population: 105,112) is working to municipalize its utility, currently owned by for-profit Xcel Energy, in order to transition to a renewable-focused model that returns a portion of profits to city or county authorities to supplement local budgets and support broader green initiatives.

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