Climate change is redefining what is mine, yours, and ours

There has been a steady bombardment of climate-related reports and news over the past few months. First it was the Paris Climate Agreement then it was Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order, followed quickly by TJ Council of Government’s Climate Assessment and then the federal government’s National Climate Assessment, which has stated unequivocally that climate change is happening now and poses huge risks for our country. Meanwhile, Hurricane Florence hit (North Carolina’s second 500-year storm in three years) which caused mass devastation and historic flooding to our downstream neighbors.

Climate change is a global crisis with widespread impacts, including ones we’re seeing in our own backyard. It’s Raleigh’s responsibility to step up and take on the challenge of cleaning up our own carbon pollution. We no longer have the luxury to sit around and just talk about setting goals for reducing climate pollution. Raleigh must pick one and move forward. 

We can pick the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 or the governor’s goal of reducing emissions by 40% by 2025. But, we’ve got to take action now.

I take heart knowing that once we do set a goal, our city will be serious about meeting it. Our work to 1) convert our fleet to electric vehicles, 2) turn methane from our waste water treatment plant into compressed natural gas that can be used in our bus fleet and 3) make our buildings more energy efficient has meant that while the rest of our community’s emissions increased by 2% from 2007 to 2014, the emissions from city-controlled assets have actually decreased by 19% during this same time period.

And yet, this is the easy part. The harder work will be changing our community’s expectations about what is mine, yours, and ours. 

Since the majority of the community’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and buildings, getting serious about reducing our climate pollution will mean thinking about our land use and transportation choices differently. It will mean that we prioritize walkable, cozier communities over car-dependent neighborhoods and the sewer pipe-like roads required to service them that have dominated Raleigh’s growth patterns since the end of World War II. We will need to champion actions that can gently add more homes into our neighborhoods by way of granny flats, duplexes and triplexes, and other types of missing-middle housing. We should push for more places for people to live, work, and raise families in our urban core and for denser residential and mixed use buildings along new high-capacity transit corridors.

Really reducing our climate pollution means we prioritize sustainable and innovative transportation options such as buses, bikes, and scooters, and the infrastructure that supports them. We should be incentivizing people to use low-carbon modes in their daily commutes, while also investing in more housing options closer to jobs, schools, and parks. This kind of living embodies modern freedom - freedom from our fossil-fuel dependent private automobiles. 

Doing the hard work of reducing climate pollution is going to mean change. Not just change for our city government, but change for many of us on an individual level. The good news is, if we do this right, we will simultaneously create a Raleigh that benefits all (for generations) with an abundance of diverse, high quality, and affordable housing and transportation options.