Cancun Climate '10

What individuals, cities are doing about climate change

Adriene Hill Dec 2, 2010
Cancun Climate '10

What individuals, cities are doing about climate change

Adriene Hill Dec 2, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: As we near the end of week one of the United Nations climate summit down in Cancun, Mexico — hey, at least there’s sun and surf. ‘Cause getting 192 countries into a room together to solve a planet-sized problem with interlocking economic angles is way easier said than done. In the absence of some big far reaching international treaty, if ever there was a case to be made for the truth behind old bumper sticker — “think globally, act locally” — Marketplace’s Adriene Hill reports climate change is it.

Adriene Hill: Karie Knoke’s about as close to no-impact as you can come — at least for someone not writing a blog about it. She lives off the grid in a yurt in Sandpoint, Idaho, about 60 miles from the Canadian border.

Right now, she’s scraping flesh off a deer hide as part of a tanning class.

Karie Knoke: What we’re going to be doing is turning deer skin, which I have a fresh deer skin I just got….

They’re turning that deerskin into soft, supple buckskin. You wouldn’t guess this class is part of an organized global effort to respond to climate change, but it is. It’s part of the Sandpoint Transition Initiative. Sandpoint’s one of dozens of “transition towns” around the world — with the not-so-minor goal of preparing local communities and small towns for a very different future, a future dramatically altered by climate change and without cheap oil.

Karen Landphear: If we wait for government, it’ll be too little, too late. If we try to do it by ourselves, it’ll be too little. But if we do it together, we just might have a chance.

That’s Karen Landphear, one of the founders of the Sandpoint Transition Initiative. And even though the group’s global agenda’s clear, in Sandpoint, Karen doesn’t talk much about climate change. Because Sandpoint’s population is a real mix — everything from lefty-hippies to far-right-wingers.

Landphear: And we can build from community and learn from each other. And if that’s all we do, that’s all we do. But at least it’s a start. So, I’m not going to change the world, but maybe we can change our community.

And lots of communities, cities, states see it the same way. Michele Betsill is a poli sci professor at Colorado State University.

Michele Betsill: Local governments are living laboratories. So they can try out different strategies for reducing energy use for changing transportation patterns.

London has congestion pricing for car parking. Fort Collins, Colo. is testing smart-grid technology. Seattle is screwing in energy-efficient light bulbs. Chicago has green roofs. Tokyo’s launched a city wide cap and trade program, and on and on…

By some estimates, cities account for two-thirds of global energy use, and therefore, about two-thirds of the problem. Betsill says it’s hard to know exactly what the carbon impact of any of these projects has been so far, and she says, these projects scale in a different way.

Betsill: I would say the bigger impact of cities is really in this rethinking of how to deal with the issue of climate change and going beyond relying on national government and thinking about what can be done at different levels of government.

Cities are also finding economic benefits to going green. So are small businesses.

That’s the sound of organic wine filling plastic bags that’ll be tucked inside recyclable cardboard boxes.

Greg Powers: It was a way to tap into a market that nobody had tapped into, especially with the organic wines, that’s what we started with first.

Greg Powers runs Badger Mountain Vineyard in Washington state. It’s pretty environmentally friendly, because that’s who they want to be, but also because it’s good for the bottom line. In addition to capitalizing on the growing consumer demand for green, the winery’s cut energy costs at their vineyard. They make their own bio-diesel from local restaurants cooking oil.

Powers: Our tasting room and offices are all solar powered.

In many ways, the vineyard shows the role small businesses have to play in climate progress. One, they’re using new energy technologies, reducing their need for fossil fuels. Badger Mountain Vineyard pays about a dollar a gallon for its bio-diesel. And two, they’re tapping into the expanding market for environmentally friendly products.

Bill Becker is from the non-profit Presidential Climate Action Project.

Bill Becker: These are the businesses; these are the sectors that need to lead the nation and then the world in capturing this market.

But finally, tackling climate change is about more than what small businesses or cities can do.

Becker: Climate change is a problem that is produced at the end of the day by millions and millions, and actually billions of decisions each of us makes everyday in how we use energy. Ranging from whether we turn the thermostat down and the lights off to whether we take the bus rather than drive. And that’s what the solution is going to be, it’s going to be a change in those billions and billions of individual decisions.

It’ll take changes in efficiency, technology and the way we live in big ways — in structural ways, in some ways that require international and domestic policy. But, in the meantime, local governments and businesses are moving ahead as testing grounds — trying to find a way forward that works.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

Ryssdal: Need some ideas for those billions and billions of little decisions you can make to help save the planet? Or if you want to share your ideas our website’s the place for you. Our Green Tip and Trade feature.

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