Vowing to fight climate change, more than 320 U.S. communities are shifting to cleaner energy sources.
WHAT MAKES A CITY COOL? For the Sierra Club, it's less about having a hip reputation than a smart plan to fight global warming. Through its Cool Cities Campaign, the Club is helping communities nationwide lower their greenhouse-gas emissions by focusing on three strategies: using green vehicles in city fleets, promoting energy efficiency, and investing in renewables.
Since every gallon of gasoline burned produces about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, switching to cleaner cars is crucial. Last year, Suffolk County, New York, initiated a green-fleet program and agreed to replace 35 of its vehicles with hybrids and replace or retrofit its buses to slash their emissions. In North Carolina, Cool City efforts persuaded Mecklenburg County officials to commit to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012--and the city of Charlotte to buy more than two dozen hybrids, which will save taxpayers money on operating costs.
Energy efficiency also gives cities more bang for their buck. Minneapolis is installing 5,000 light-emitting-diode traffic signals, which will use 85 percent less energy than conventional lights and save about $200,000 per year. And in Omaha, Nebraska, where the Club's local Building Environmental Community Campaign is spearheading Cool City efforts, the city is replacing lights in its buildings with energy-efficient models and installing automated heating and cooling systems.
Other cities are leading the way with investments in renewables. Two years ago, the Club helped sway 78 percent of Columbia, Missouri, voters to require that the city obtain 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022. Thanks to an agreement with a local electric cooperative, Columbia should start receiving wind-generated electricity later this year. And last summer, Sierra Student Coalition activists prevailed upon Maryland's Montgomery County Council to purchase 20 percent renewable energy for all municipal buildings by 2011. As more cities follow these "cool" examples, they can help lead the country toward a better energy future.
ON THE WEB To find out how to make your city "cool," visit coolcities.us.
All in the Family
Last August, Elizabeth May, former executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, was elected leader of the Green Party of Canada. Her priorities for the party include renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement ("Trade must be fair and carbon neutral") and complying with the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change ("We must stand up to the big lie that Canada cannot meet its Kyoto targets"). May also hopes to raise the Green Party's visibility by reaching out to young voters and winning seats in the House of Commons. Learn more at greenparty.ca.
Lights! Camera! Energy!
Roll out the green carpet and help your local Sierra Club chapter host an energy-themed film festival. Sierra Club Productions has assembled an inspiring mix of documentaries--including Too Hot Not to Handle, an HBO primer on global warming; Kilowatt Ours, a journey from the coal mines of West Virginia to the solar-panel fields of Florida; and episodes of Sierra Club Chronicles. These DVDs are available for chapters to borrow. Volunteers can choose movies tailored to their community's interests and are encouraged to organize sessions with energy experts to provoke discussion--and action.
Calling all indie filmmakers: If you have a story to share about unsung environmental advocates, the producers of the public-television series Natural Heroes want to hear from you. They're currently accepting submissions for the program's third season, which is being underwritten by Sierra Club Productions and will air in the fall. For guidelines, visit naturalheroes.org.
The Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program works tirelessly to defend the earth in court; now you can follow its inspiring work online. On Greenblawg, the Club's savvy attorneys dispense with legalese to explain their cases, such as challenging the Bush administration's paltry fuel-economy standards. According to one post, the feds don't encourage automakers to innovate; "they just put lipstick on the gas guzzlers." Read more at sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/blog.
Join the Sierra Club's Take Action Network at sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you can send e-mails and faxes to your elected officials.
For the latest on Club campaigns and how you can help, go to sierraclub.org/email, where you can sign up for our biweekly e-newsletter, the Sierra Club Insider, as well as other Club e-mail communications.
To make your voice count on environmental issues, the Sierra Club recommends that you write or call (rather than e-mail) your national elected officials at:
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
U.S. Capitol Switchboard
Ohio and New York: Giving Parks a Hand
With a one-inch wingspan, the endangered Karner blue could easily escape notice. But on September 30, 2006, as part of Public Lands Day, the Sierra Club's Western Lake Erie Group came to its defense, helping restore habitat for the delicate butterfly in a Stanton, Ohio, park. Each fall, thousands of Americans don work gloves and boots to help maintain our 655 million acres of federal public lands and waters. To support these efforts and raise awareness of recent attempts by Congress and the Bush administration to sell off swaths of these protected lands, the Club launched the "Public Lands in Public Hands" campaign. Club volunteers nationwide repaired trails, removed trash and invasive species, and did community outreach.
In New York State, Club volunteers spruced up the Gertrude's Nose Footpath in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The area, which many have likened to Yosemite Valley, was slated for development a few years ago; nearly 350 homes and a golf course were planned when a local landowner tried to sell some 2,600 acres of ridgetop. The Club and other groups helped block the project, and the state park annexed the land last March. "Bringing people outdoors to see the beauty of an area," says Don Pachner of the Club's Lower Hudson Group, "is a very effective means of saving endangered, wild open spaces." Visit sierraclub.org/publiclandsday. --Sarah Ives
New Mexico: Upgrading the Air
The lightbulb finally went on for New Mexico's largest electricity provider, PNM. After reaching a settlement over air-quality violations in 2005 with the Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust, and the state environment department, the company has started an estimated $270 million project to upgrade its San Juan Generating Station. "They could have continued to fight their pollution violations," says Marissa Stone, communications director of the New Mexico Environment Department, "but they decided to reduce their emissions and be proactive about it."
Through 2009, the coal-fired power plant will install pollution-control equipment that should cut mercury emissions by 75 percent and reduce sulfur dioxide releases to 65 percent below currently permitted levels. Says attorney Reed Zars, who represented the Club, "This is the story of local people coming together and sustaining a long fight, and in the end achieving a great success." --Robynne Boyd
CONTACT US Spotlight local Sierra Club activism by writing to Karina Kinik at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105; e-mail email@example.com.
"One Cool Country" has been corrected subsequent to publication.