“All politics is local,” former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill liked to say. It is all well and good for the rich and powerful to make grand pronouncements from mountaintops in Switzerland, but the hard work of addressing climate change is taking place at the local level. Barcelona and Boston have become the latest cities to release realistic plans to lower carbon emissions and prepare for a warmer world.
This Is Not A Drill
“Barcelona as a city wants to add its weight to the words of Greta Thunberg and state that indeed, [this is] not a drill, it’s an emergency. The house is on fire. Time has run out, and there are no shortcuts.” With those words, mayor Ada Colau announced a sweeping climate action plan created with the participation of 300 people representing the interests of 200 stakeholders who served on a Climate Emergency Board created by the city last year.
Mayor Colau says the plan put together by the board represents a “paradigm shift” and a pathway toward a Green New Deal that will benefit all citizens of Barcelona and the Catalonia region of Spain. According to Grist, the plan is composed of 103 measures that tackle climate change from every angle. Under the plan, Barcelona will ban polluting vehicles, install 40 hectares of urban green space, transition to renewable energy, reduce food waste, and more. The objective is to reduce carbon emissions in the city by 50% by the year 2030 compared to 1990.
Barcelona says it will invest €563 million to reduce the number of private cars on its roads, improve the energy efficiency of residential buildings, produce more renewable energy, and increase waste collection and recycling. One measure aimed at reducing congestion is the creation of “super blocks” within the city — places where the idea that private cars should be given top priority is torn up and a new way of thinking promoted.
Dave Roberts of Vox spent 10 days in Barcelona last spring and reported how the city plans to take back its streets from the scourge of the automobile. “What I found was more fascinating than anything I could have imagined: not just an urban plan, but a vision for a different way of living in the 21st century, one that steps back from many of the mistakes of the auto-besotted 20th century, refocusing on health and community. It is a bigger and more ambitious city plan than anything being discussed in America and, more important, a plan that is actually being implemented, with a few solid pilot projects behind it, a list of lessons learned, and a half-dozen new projects in the works.”
Spurred by Barcelona’s bold action, Spain — which suffered through the hottest summer on record in 2019 — declared a climate emergency last week after an EU report showed its carbon emissions are actually rising while those from other European countries are falling. The declaration proposes the country obtain 95% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2040, eliminate pollution by buses and trucks, and making farming carbon neutral, according to the Associated Press. The government says it will submit a plan to implement those goals to the national legislature within 100 days.
Boston Declares Public Health Emergency
Half a world away, the city of Boston is also ramping up its response to climate change. Last week, the Boston City Council declared climate change a “public health emergency,” noting it leads to increased exposure to extreme heat, reduced air quality, more frequent and intense natural hazards, increased exposure to infectious diseases and aeroallergens, effects on mental health, and increased risk of population displacement and conflict, according to Smart Cities World.
“Climate change exacerbates health disparities, disproportionately harming the most vulnerable among us – children and pregnant women, people with low income, the elderly, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and marginalized people of all races and ethnicities,”the City Council said in a statement.
The city says it plans to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050. To get there, it has created an 88-page plan that focuses on protecting the health of its most vulnerable citizens. Climate change is not just about rising sea levels or melting ice caps. Heat stress and particulate pollution from burning fossil fuels can shorten lives. Saving koala bears in Australia may not get much sympathy from folks in the US, but seeing Grandpa keel over because he can’t breathe. All politics is local. Just ask the people in Barcelona and Boston.