Texas mayors focus on costs of climate change
Moves to tackle issue can be more palatable if they save residents money.
Images of glaciers disintegrating or a solitary polar bear swimming in the Arctic are no doubt evocative, but when it comes to discussing climate change with their local constituencies, for Texas mayors it’s about dollars and cents.
That was one of the main takeaways from a panel discussion Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival on how cities affect and cope with climate change. The speakers were Austin Mayor Steve Adler, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, all Democrats or, in Nirenberg’s case, a nonpartisan progressive.
“This is a local issue,” Adler said to a packed room in Calhoun Hall at the University of Texas. “Now that the U.S. seems to be pulling back from that, it just means that cities need to step up.”
Adler was one of several mayors across the country to vow to follow the Paris climate agreement after President Donald Trump said he would back out of the 2015 accord. Adler also recently spoke on behalf of Austin as a “pioneering” city delivering on the Paris agreement this month in New York City as part of the influential C40 talks
For Parker, she said that amounts to something she called “paradiplomacy,” a local jurisdiction’s ability to negotiate and enforce its own prerogatives. For Houston, that means leveraging its $5 billion budget’s purchasing power to create markets. For instance, during Parker’s tenure, the city replaced about 168,000 streetlights with LED bulbs.
That reduced energy consumption. But to Houston residents,
it was sold as a way to save money, Parker said.
Austin leaders updated the city’s energy plan last month to generate 65 percent of the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2027, with an aspirational goal to no longer use fossil fuels by 2030.
Adler was quick to say that much of that is made possible because Austin owns its electric utility, unusual among large U.S. cities. But by creating these mandates, cities can manufacture demand and make renewable energy a more attractive venture for energy companies.
Of course, it helps if you live in Texas, the wind power capital of the world, which makes wind power less expensive than in other places, Parker said.
In South Bend, the city has taken a step into advocacy. In June, after the federal government scrubbed climate change data from its website, the city took the unusual action of archiving the Environmental Protection Agency’s online data and posting it on the city’s website.
“We can no longer rely on the federal government to be a fact-based arbiter when it comes to climate change,” Buttigieg said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler (second from left); San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker join Saturday’s discussion titled “How Cities Are Tackling Climate Change” moderated by Kiah Collier (left) at the 2017 Texas Tribune Festival on the UT campus.