The sequel to An Inconvenient Truth hits the theaters this week. It shows how the Paris Climate Accord made history. The “plot” involves huge superpowers who clash and ultimately agree that the threat of global warming calls for immediate action. We know the ending is a happy one as even the U.S. and India embrace real, meaningful reductions of carbon emissions and this one chance to save the planet.
But, in one of the more powerful moments in the sequel, former Vice President Al Gore joins civil engineers as they wade into hip-deep seawater on Collins Avenue in Miami’s South Beach. It is a sunny day, but sea level rise due to melting polar ice caps, has started to flood this low lying area. Gore wants to see their valiant efforts to pump the ocean back.
The movie’s release is timely—with the United States pulling out of the climate accord. It helps underscore just how huge a moment in history this is, and it adds weight to another bombshell. States like California and cities like Cleveland announced they will circumvent their country’s decision and will move forward with their own commitment to meet the global climate accord.
Which begs the question, how? How can Cleveland make meaningful strides in reducing carbon emissions in order to meet the goals set in the Paris Climate Accord (40 to 70 percent below 1990 levels by 2050)?
Here are some ideas for Clevelanders concerned about climate change to focus their attention.
1. The Definitive List: This month, phys.org narrowed the laundry list to six “Most effective individual steps to tackle climate change.” Based on a survey of 39 peer-reviewed papers, the most effective action you can take to fight global warming is live car free (it will prevent 2.8 tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere). Also, high on the list are keeping family size small, eating a vegetable diet, cutting back on flying, and buying renewable energy.
2. How do you start living car free? The most important decision to move in the direction of living car free is choosing your neighborhood carefully. Let WalkScore be your guide. Does your ideal neighborhood have a lot of places to walk, bike and connect to via transit? Where you live has a lot of bearing on if you can live car free or car lite. It needs to have a WalkScore at or above the Cleveland average of 57 to come close to accessing daily needs easily without hopping into the car every time.
3. Car free, part two—As important as where you live is the location and attitude of where you work. Do you work for a company that forces everyone to drive, drive, drive, or do you want to work for a company that has located where more people have easier access to healthy and sustainable modes of transportation? When you are asked in a job interview if you have any questions about the company, we suggest asking if they offer incentives to green your commute.
4. Transportation is the second largest source of carbon emissions in the United States — just behind power generation. As power plants switch from coal to natural gas and renewables (the fastest growing sector), it is likely to be the top producer of greenhouse gases. Careful consideration of the time, energy and financial resources devoted to driving can be eye opening (even if your work expenses your mileage, check out this handy guide to see if you are paying more than average for living far from work. You may be surprised to see how much transportation costs add up the further away you move. This is because many newer communities are designed to make driving the only available mode of getting around).
5. Speaking of the suburbs, this article by Strong Towns debunks four myths about the suburbs, such as, they’re preferred by nearly everyone. Suburbs sell the idea of new over gradually improving places. It means we have a huge inventory of buildings that were thrown together in a hurry, usually for a single purpose, and are aging badly. “It manifests in quick growth and job creation followed by increasing poverty, enormous income gaps, declining neighborhoods…” You get the picture. For example, last year, big name retailers closed 2,500 store locations in the U.S. With local budgets super tight, it is completely unrealistic to expect to find money to follow through on reuse ideas that get floated around like make a big box store into a church or a school.
6. And yet rebuild we must. However, the experts agree the (smaller) money is better spent on making existing places incrementally better than in the (very expensive long shot) of making new, single purpose, auto only environments walkable and charming.
7. The argument for this lean rebuild is in the heavy infrastructure that can be found in cities, thanks to the Industrial Revolution. In Cleveland, there are rail lines and streets with more high-value real estate per square foot—an artifact of the streetcars needing so much density to operate with max efficiency. It’s not only better to behold, but the places around streetcar lines, W. 25th, Detroit, Lorain, E. 105, Broadway, St. Clair, E. 55 are attractive and they serve a dual role as commercial and living spaces, with layers of infrastructural wealth—brick, plaster, hard wood and other appurtenances aging into a priceless form of art. The key is to restore them without losing the charm but make the operating systems more efficient. The larger the group who demands this type of living arrangement, the better off we’ll all become.
8. The legacy of the streetcar lines and the heavy rail that was built in Cleveland is where the city’s next mayor needs to make his or her stand. Cleveland is ripe for a Neo-classical revival. Cleveland has such tremendous assets in transit, this OpEd letter last week from the national group Transit Center in the Plain Dealer wisely points out, that the next mayor ought to feel emboldened by the opportunity to build the next generation of mixed use, transit-oriented development as the centerpiece to economic revival— to make it a front burner item like nearly every city leader would do in his or her place, and who are tripping over themselves to do in their town.
9. To make transit a success, GCRTA and Cleveland need to reexamine its legacy spoke-and-hub system and allow for a complete transit system redesign on the order of those completed in Columbus and Houston. It will precipitate economic investment into those transit lines and make transit a viable option for more people. Cleveland needs to make transit more affordable, because, all too often, TOD is synonymous with gentrifying areas.
10. How do we attract those who want to live a car free life? The key is in the study and comments from Todd Litman, who has spent his career at Victoria (Canada) Transport Policy Institute analyzing the urban systems that support sustainability. In the U.S. the vast subsidies provided to highways need to end if we are ever to address the inequities that are holding down the American market for walkable urbanism. Socially, he notes that too many Americans are “embarrassed” about not driving. Is this embarrassment a barrier for many who would otherwise shift their mode to transit, walking or biking? We need to acknowledge it in a national dialogue that addresses whatever is at the heart of this relic of an age when motordom meant something to the men and women of America.