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By Michael Bastasch
Hundreds of U.S. mayors have committed to the goals of the Paris climate accord in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement he would withdraw from the agreement.
It’s a nice thought, according to a former city official, but it’s not even close to being reality.
“The idea that cities are leading on climate change is applauded over and over and over,” wrote Sam Brooks, who directed the District of Columbia’s energy division from 2012 to 2014.
“There’s just one problem,” Brooks wrote on the news site Greentech Media. “It’s not actually happening,” he wrote in his article on the myth that “cities are leading on climate.”
The pledge by roughly 320 mayors was covered breathlessly by the media. Reporters, for example, covered New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive order for his city to comply with the Paris accord.
U.S. mayors promised to push more climate policies to “meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy,” according to their manifesto. Brooks wrote “it’s time to stop with the empty platitudes and face reality.”
Brooks argued that while cities have a role to play in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, they’re policies have largely been ineffectual. He said mayors touting their environmental credentials were taking credit for broader emissions trends.
“Retrofit programs for buildings and homes aren’t delivering results,” Brooks wrote. “Power distribution remains rooted in century-old thinking and technology. And those cities that claim to be on track to go ‘100 percent renewable’? Not even close,”
“It turns out that when cities claim reductions in greenhouse gases, they’re usually taking credit for things they didn’t do,” he wrote.
Brooks pointed out that major U.S. cities aren’t reducing electricity use enough to make a meaningful reduction in emissions, and the policies many localities employ to fight global warming don’t accomplish much.
Brooks noted “it’s difficult to identify much progress” in terms of energy efficiency improvements and that “only a few cities have more solar per capita than the national average.” Indeed, even self-styled “green” cities, like San Francisco, get less than 2 percent of their electricity from solar panels.
Cities that pledge to use 100 percent renewable energy are also full of it, Brooks wrote. And he has firsthand experience with this policy.
“When I led the energy division for government facilities in Washington, D.C., we became entirely ‘green-powered’ by purchasing one wind [renewable energy credit (REC)] to account for each megawatt-hour of electricity we bought from the grid,” Brooks wrote.
In other words, one can become “green” without actually having to change their underlying behavior.
Las Vegas, Nevada recently made headlines for allegedly being powered by 100 percent green energy. They, of course, used RECs. Google and Apple also have goals of using 100 percent green energy — also relying on RECs.
“Ultimately, put plainly, all of this means that cities can meet nebulous climate goals by purchasing credits. This is a worrisome path. Instead of obfuscating climate-related success, our focus should be on impactful action,” Brooks wrote.