Guest Post – from Al Braden
Al Braden is a local environmental activist and photographer.
“Thanks for the invite to come back. I am a member of Sierra Club,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said as he took the stage at Austin Sierra Club’s February meeting at Scholz Garten. “I know my attendance is not great at meetings – but this organization does so much – is so important.”
Mayor Adler came to discuss “How Cities Lead.” He began by relating cities’ contribution to the Paris Climate Accord.
“Cities’ efforts are really timely,” he said, “in relation to climate change – given what is happening at the federal level.” In 2015 Adler led a Paris delegation from Austin that included Council Member Leslie Pool, County Commissioner Brigid Shea, Electric Utility Commissioner Michael Osborne and Huston-Tillotson University environmental activist Brittany Foley.
“While the national and international treaties were being signed,” Adler said, “there was also the largest collection of mayors in one place in the history of the world – 600 international mayors gathered – and a compact signed by mayors pledging in parallel to do work to keep the temperatures below one and a half degrees.”
“Half of the work that was envisioned by the international treaty was work that had to be done locally. . . because a lot of the decisions about energy generation are made locally,” Adler said. “We’re incredibly fortunate to own our own power company. We get to make those kinds of choices.”
With his lead, Austin is an active member of the C40 international organization representing the world’s major cities. Its membership now includes over 90 cities and Adler is working to bring their annual meeting to Austin in 2019. If he can pull that off, it would be a real boost to Austin’s reputation as a world innovator.
“Then after that – there was an election in November that shocked me – and all of us,” Adler said.
On a trip to the C40 Conference in Mexico City right after the election, Adler was one of the first American elected officials to visit the Mexican capital. “A lot of people in Mexico were very scared,” he said. He spent half a day with Mexican and international media and the other half with Mexican officials reassuring them that Americans were still their friends and working to understand what their national plan needed to be.
“They had already identified that their work needed to be communicating directly with cities – trying to put together alliances of cities that they thought could work together – to keep trade lines open,” Adler said. “To deal with cities as if they were states and to deal with states as if they were countries. They needed to figure out what the new operating procedure needed to be. On sanctuary cities, Austin was one of the first cities to step forward in that debate when Trump was elected – lots of people in our city standing up at that point. We almost had to do it because of what our governor and lieutenant governor were doing.”
Adler said that when these stories started running internationally, the mayor of Luleå, Sweden – one of Austin’s sister cities – sent a big bouquet of flowers with a card saying, “If Austin needs anything – lets us know – because we’ll send the Swedish Air Force and we’ll do airdrops just like you did in Berlin.”
“I just loved the thought!” Adler said.
“Cities are doing more and more together and it’s exciting to see climate change is one of those areas where cities are pushing each other to do more,” Adler said during his talk at the Sierra Club meeting.
What really amazed him was the international interest in Austin’s solar purchases and the way Austin went about getting community wide support – not just from Sierra Club and the environmental movement – but also from the industrial companies, hospitals, businesses, and the low-income community. This was based, he said, on changing the planning model from simply purchasing certain amounts of renewable energy to a careful analysis of risks associated with different options. By agreeing on the level of acceptable risk, the purchases could move forward with consent.
“The reason that excites C40,” he said, “is that there are cities all over the world that are fighting the same battles that we’re fighting with significant parts of their communities wanting to move to greater renewability and people on the other side presenting roadblocks. What kind of tools can be given to those cities, so they can move past these? We as a city are working really hard on climate change issues. We’re getting a lot of credit for it internationally. I’m really excited to hope that C40 will be here for all of us next year.”
Pivot to CodeNext and the Mayor described his work to find common ground in the discussion. With Council Members Kitchen and Alter they just published a set of core principles on the Austin City Council Forum to build consensus.
“This is,” he said, “the beginning of the community finding the right place to really have the Austin that we all love.”
Quickly questions followed.
Bob Hendricks of Sierra Club asked, ”If Austin Energy were to propose a new natural gas plant would you oppose it?”
“Yes,” Mayor Adler replied, “and I think that’s why we haven’t seen one. The economics just don’t work.”
Questions about mobility funding covered the “Big Bond” – which at $720 million was Austin’s largest bond ever. It also brought in $300 million in state matching funds. That bond included many good projects – improved intersections, bike paths and sidewalks. But the effort pales, he said, compared to the $56 billion regional transportation bond that Seattle just passed and a similar $27 billion bond for the Phoenix area.
“That’s what Austin should be doing,” he emphasized, “The state doesn’t give us the tools to do that. They should either give us the money or give us the tools and get out of the way.”
Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.