During Mayor Nickels's state of the city speech last February, I laughed out loud in council chambers when he announced his initiative to honor the Kyoto Protocol by "meeting the threat of global warming." It struck me, and I wrote this at the time, as one of those chimerical slaps at the Bush administration (like the city council's earlier resolution against the war in Iraq) that make Seattle voters feel good, but don't actually accomplish anything.
To me, the effect of Nickels's pomp was similar to the delusional phenomenon liberal commuters experience during their rush-hour Volvo cruises across 520 while listening to an NPR story about global warming-a righteous jolt of meaningless piety.
But I was wrong. Nickels is not an NPR mayor. Since his announcement last February, he has organized 161 mayors from 37 states to follow his lead-including places like New York; Los Angeles; Miami; Lexington, Kentucky; Toledo, Ohio; and Macon, Georgia. Nickels had initially planned to sign up 141 cities-the same number of countries that signed off on the Kyoto Protocols.
This weekend, Nickels is taking his case to Chicago at the annual meeting of the National Conference of Mayors, where he's hoping to shepherd his "U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement" through a successful floor vote.
The idea is to implement policies on the local level that will force cities to meet a key requirement of the Kyoto Protocol-reducing greenhouse gases seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012. (The Nickels administration, for its part, says Seattle City Light will have no net emissions of greenhouse gas pollution by the end of this year. They've also spent $318,921 transitioning Metro buses to bio-diesel fuel.)
Nickels scored a glowing article in the New York Times last month-"Rebuffing Bush, Mayors Embrace Kyoto Rules," the national headline blared-hyping the work he had done signing up mayors to the cause.
What I had perceived as a goofball affront to Bush (the U.S. has infamously refused to join the international environmental accord) is perhaps the foremost execution of the urban agenda that The Stranger advocated last November in our popular Urban Archipelago essay ["The Urban Archipelago," Editors of The Stranger, Nov 11, 2004].
We argued then, in the face of red America's victory on Election Day, that America's deep blue cities should go their own way. Through their cultural and economic clout, we said, cities should set a de facto alternative agenda that would leave the rest of the country with a stark choice: Get smart or collapse under the weight (figurative and literal) of red-state values (like SUVs and Burger Kings). States that have no mayors endorsing Nickels's Kyoto plan include Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, and both Dakotas. Nickels is poised to change that.
Nickels will introduce his resolution in Chicago this weekend. "Climate disruption is real," Nickels's director of the city's Office of Sustainability and Environment, Steve Nicholas, says. "The scientific debate is over, and it's time for action."