I’m still waiting for Will to post his first-hand take on Monday’s briefing at city hall, where Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced that the city is on target to meet the Kyoto Treaty goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. But while I wait, I thought I’d make a quick observation that most of the other published reports seem to have missed: hitting the target was, um… pretty damn easy.
The report shows that in 2005, Seattle’s total emissions were 8 percent below 1990 levels — 11 percent below on a per capita basis. And most of these reductions were due to conservation and climate-friendly policies on the part of Seattle City Light.
A skeptical Erica C. Barnett dismisses these reductions as “the low-hanging fruit for Seattle,” and while that’s kinda-sorta true, it should be noted that this fruit was a helluva lot less low for Seattle than it would be for most other cities. City Light already relied on emission-free hydropower for 90 percent of its electricity, so whatever reductions and offsets the utility achieved, they only had 10 percent of their generating capacity to play with. By contrast, cities that rely on fossil fuel fired plants for the bulk of their power have a lot more room for improvement.
President Bush backed out of the relatively timid Kyoto accord claiming the economic costs would be too much to bear, but Seattle’s efforts thus far have not only been painless, they went nearly unnoticed. If the rest of the nation were to follow Seattle’s lead, it is likely many cities would far exceed our modest reductions, and at little or no cost to rate payers. I think that’s the real news in Monday’s announcement.
No doubt Seattle faces huge obstacles in maintaining these reductions over the next five years — and the goals themselves likely fall far short of what is necessary to slow or reverse global warming — so I fully expect cynics to dismiss the reductions as little more than a short-lived, symbolic victory. But symbolism has a knack for inspiring action, and if Seattle’s early success leads other cities to attack their low-hanging fruit too, well that at least would be a first step in the right direction.