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Cool Cities adjust the heat

Increasing public transportation and encouraging Federal Way residents to utilize it is one way Federal Way can start decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Increasing public transportation and encouraging Federal Way residents to utilize it is one way Federal Way can start decreasing its greenhouse gas emissions.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

The push is under way to make Federal Way more environmentally friendly and conscious about global warming.

The Sierra Club, a grass-roots environmental conservation group operating in the United States, sent Federal Way Mayor Michael Park an e-mail Sept. 4. In the message, the club urged him to make Federal Way a Cool City — one that agrees to the terms of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and carries out an action plan to decrease greenhouse gas pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous dioxide.

The Sierra Club has spent the past two years investing in its Cool City Campaign. The club contacts U.S. city mayors and requests the city make a commitment to decrease its contributions to global warming by signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and enacting a four-step process to achieve the goals the agreement encompasses.

Once the agreement has been signed, the city is on its way to becoming a Cool City.

Global warming is an issue that transcends age and poses a threat to grandparents, parents and children alike, said Jessica Eagle, Sierra Club Regional Conservation Organizer.

“This is one of the largest challenges our generation and the next face,” Eagle said.

Seattle leads

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels realizes global warming is not something to be taken lightly. In 2005, he launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in response to President George W. Bush’s decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

The protocol requires the 175 countries that have ratified the agreement to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions by specified targets. The end goal is to decrease 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by at least 5 percent by 2012, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Control Web site at http://unfccc.int/2860.php.

The agreement urges mayors from all reaches of the United States to come together to combat global warming and meet the standards set for the United States in the Kyoto Protocol.

Had the United States signed the protocol, the nation would have been required to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent by 2012. To date, 663 mayors across the nation have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, said Steve Nicholas, Seattle’s director of the Office of Sustainability and Environment.

Mayors in 28 Washington state cities have committed to themselves to this cause, Nicholas said.

Sierra Club

Many of the 663 cities have become greener and have met the goals set forth in the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement with the assistance of the Sierra Club, Nicholas said.

Several of these cities participate in the club’s Cool Cities Campaign. Each city is required to complete a four-step process, which will assist it in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent in the next five years.

“(The Sierra Club) has been very instrumental,” Nicholas said. “They have a strong network of activists around the country.”

Beginning the process

The first step in becoming a Cool City is to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. At its core, the agreement is about a commitment to taking responsibility for the greenhouse gas pollutants one’s city causes, then taking action to decrease those gases, Nicholas said.

Becoming a Cool City will cost money, but will save more money and lives in the long run, he said.

Environmentally friendly actions, such as drying one’s clothes outside or using public transportation, are also cost-saving moves, said Dan Streiffert, chairman of South King County Sierra Club group. The effects of global warming can already be seen, and the cost of inaction will be far greater than costs a city will spend in its global warming restraint efforts, Nicholas said.

Evaluating one’s city

The second step in becoming a Cool City includes conducting a global warming emissions inventory. This will determine the city’s current level of greenhouse gases.

Technology and software to complete this task are available through the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Eagle said. The software can assist city personnel in determining how much energy is being consumed and greenhouse gases produced by a single building or neighborhood, she said. This step will also identify the city’s biggest cause of greenhouse gases.

In the Puget Sound region, most of the greenhouse gasses are produced by motor vehicle emissions and unwise energy use in buildings, Nicholas said.

In Eagle’s assessment of Federal Way, she imagines traffic congestion is a major pollutant, she said.

“Most of the actions (the region) needs to take are related to increasing the efficiency of fossil fuels,” Nicholas said.

Establishing goals

The third step involves creating an action plan to address and decrease the city’s pollution.

The plan must be tailored to fit the city and should include public outreach and education, Eagle said. Beyond this, no requirements or stipulations in how a city chooses to decrease its greenhouse gases exist, she said.

“There are a growing number of information and groups available to help Federal Way over the humps of the first steps,” Nicholas said.

Seattle, for example, in addition to the bountiful number of actions it has already embraced to curb global warming, will launch a campaign called Seattle Climate Action Now, or Seattle CAN, on Sept. 21, Nicholas said. The program was designed so that it could easily be used by other cities in the region, he said.

Seattle CAN will bring together the city’s residents, business owners and staff, he said. It will focus on providing these groups with solutions to global warming, rather than just educating them about its dangers, Nicholas said.

“We love the idea of mayors working together,” Eagle said.

Making a difference

The fourth step in the Cool Cities Campaign is to carry out and monitor the action plan. It generally takes about one year to take inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and establish an action plan, Eagle said.

After this, the Sierra Club could assist in educating residents about the plan, and Federal Way

volunteers would likely be called upon to motivate other residents to curb global warming, Eagle said.

Among those volunteers may be Philip Bebbington, 18, who recently became interested in the Sierra Club after he viewed Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” last year at Highline Community College, he said. The film awakened him.

“It was really eye-opening to see how badly the environment has been polluted by humans,” Bebbington said.

A rise in concern about global warming is sweeping the country, and it surprises Bebbington that in Washington state, Federal Way is among the most populated cities, but has not officially cut back on its greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

Becoming a Cool City will be slightly difficult, but Bebbington feels that after the initial push, Federal Way residents will want to contribute to a solution, rather than the cause, to global warming, he said.

“If Federal Way decides to sign on, (Seattle) would be happy to provide some help along the way,” Nicholas said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or call (253) 925-5565.

Get involved

Ways Federal Way can start to become a Cool City:

Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs where possible.

Encourage residents to carpool, bike, walk or use public transportation to reach their destination.

Use light-emitting diode (LED) lights in traffic signals.

Encourage residents to eat and buy locally grown food and products.

Educate residents on how to use fossil fuels efficiently.

Use wind power to provide energy in city buildings.

Communicate and share ideas on ways to decrease greenhouse gases with neighboring cities.

Illustrate the long-term savings of being environmentally friendly.

Create partnerships to accomplish goals set by the city.

Approach and carry out an action plan with a positive attitude.

Tips provided by the Jessica Eagle, Sierra Club Regional Conservation Organizer, and Steve Nicholas, director of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment

The Kyoto Protocol, an amendment drafted in 1997 and enacted in February 2005 to the international treaty on climate change, aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Web site at http://unfccc.int/2860.php.

A specific percentage of decreased greenhouse gas emissions is assigned to each country that has signed the Kyoto Protocol. To date, 175 countries including Austria, Italy, Ireland, Canada, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Kuwait, Iran and Rwanda have signed and agreed to carry out the protocol, according to the Web site. Among the countries noticeably absent from the protocol are the United States and Australia.

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