How L.A. is Working Its Way to Zero Emissions
When we think about climate change solutions, we often picture sweeping international agreements or comprehensive legislation from Congress. But many of the key decisions about how we generate and use energy happen in our own cities. At a time when progress in D.C. is hindered by politicians who think wind power causes cancer and getting married is the solution to our climate crisis, we need real leadership and solutions from our cities now more than ever. Across the country, with the help of community action and policy advocacy, our cities are stepping up to the plate.
As a clean air attorney in Los Angeles, I know all too well how dangerous our addiction to burning fossil fuels can be – especially for the communities at the frontlines of pollution. At Earthjustice, I fight in court to protect one of our most basic human rights: the right to breathe, unencumbered from filthy air. I gather great inspiration from my clients, who reject the notion that businesses have to make people sick as a necessary byproduct of progress. These communities know that true progress is a zero-emissions future where we can all breathe easily. Together, we’ve been pushing the city of Los Angeles to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and embrace a zero-emissions, clean energy city. And it’s working.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently announced his decision not to repower three coastal gas plants in the Los Angeles basin. This is one of the largest gas retirement decisions in the nation. My colleague Angela Johnson Meszaros, who worked with community partners to achieve this momentous decision, said, “LA is letting go of our fossil fuel past and clearing the way for our clean energy future. I’m proud to see Los Angeles following through on its vision of being a leader in sustainability with action that delivers on that promise.” Cities and mayors, like Eric Garcetti, are realizing that commitments to climate change solutions are only as effective as the actions that follow.
By addressing a variety of factors that add to pollution, cities can take a more comprehensive approach to mitigating the effects of climate change. For example, Earthjustice worked with the Los Angeles Electric Truck and Bus Coalition to convince Mayor Garcetti and the regional transit authority to commit to 100% zero-emission buses by 2030. The campaign brought together environmentalists, bus riders, and good job advocates who see the potential of an electrified future to clean the air, create high-quality jobs, and combat the threat of climate change. Following the lead of Foothill Transit in the foothills outside Los Angeles and Antelope Valley Transit Authority, Los Angeles Metro is one of the first large transit agencies to be early adopters of zero-emission buses. Soon, the transit agency will deploy at least 95 electric buses, one of the largest actual deployments of zero-emission buses in the nation.
Good ideas are contagious, so Los Angeles’ commitment to zero-emission buses has had a ripple effect. The Mayor-Elect of Chicago ran on a commitment to a 100% electric bus fleet by 2030, and she cited Los Angeles’ commitment as an inspiration. Cities like New York, Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago are also committing to clean buses. And these commitments are not just words on paper; we’re seeing hundreds of electric buses deployed in cities across the nation. These cities — and cities across the nation — are not waiting for national policies to spark change. They are taking it upon themselves to safeguard public health and lead the way to a pollution-free future.
For decades, urban communities have been fighting for stronger environmental protections and championing the move towards clean energy in their cities. Now, with the consequences of climate change becoming more salient, cities are starting to listen. They are increasingly realizing that fossil fuels are a bad investment and worsen the quality of life for all residents, especially those who live in close proximity to large sites of fossil fuel pollution. Our future will be powered by clean energy, and the faster we get there the sooner our cities will see the benefits for public health, our environment and our economy.
Our work isn’t done in Los Angeles. We still need to get large polluters like LA’s port to commit to a more aggressive zero-emissions plan. But I’m confident we can build on our momentum and push our local leaders to tackle this major problem. And if we can continue the transition to clean energy in a city as large and influential as Los Angeles, we can make it happen in cities across the United States.
While I’m proud of the victories we’ve had in Los Angeles, I’m even more excited about what we will do next. By making some of the crucial decisions LA has already made and will make in the future, cities can be a model of climate progress for the country and the world.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Read more from the Meeting of the Minds Blog
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The Remix team brings a multidisciplinary approach to their change management work, which helps them complement municipal government clients, whose stakeholders tend to be siloed into separate departments. “We’re fairly unique in the software industry, because our team is blended,” Tiffany explains. One half of their team is comprised of transportation practitioners and policy experts, and the other half is made up of software developers and designers. “We bring to transportation planning the culture of co-creation and fast iteration that is typically found in the software industry,” she says, “so, we go into a room having both those muscles to flex.”
A recent study by the International Downtown Association reports that vibrant downtowns contain around 3% of citywide land, but contain 14% of all citywide retail and food and beverage businesses, and 35% of all hotel rooms. This results in $53 million in sales tax per square mile, compared to the citywide average of $5 million. Not to mention that downtown residential buildings also add to the tax base. In the 24 cities included in the study, residential growth in these downtowns outpaced the rest of the city by 400% between 2010 and 2016.
Partnerships between city officials and contractors result in new and visionary downtown destinations. Along with large vertical construction projects, there are opportunities for countless other projects, including parking structures, enhanced Wi-Fi, landscaping, pedestrian and biking paths, and traffic improvements.
Ordered city geometry that is built today is meaningless for energy cycles. Resilient networks contain inherent diversity and redundancy, with optimal cooperation among their subsystems, yet they avoid optimization (maximum efficiency) for any single process. They require continuous input of energy in order to function, with energy cycles running simultaneously on many different scales.
Short-term urban fixes only wish to perpetuate the extractive model of cities, not to correct its underlying long-term fragility!