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Politicians have failed us on sustainability. It’s time for our mayors to step up

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Mayors, and not national politicians, are the key to a sustainable future. We should look to them for social, environmental and investment leadership.

A week ago today, the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a damning report into the physical state of our planet’s climate. Human activity is the prime contributor to global warming, the overwhelming majority of scientists involved concluded.

A few days later, the Conservative party conference kicked off in Manchester. After a series of underwhelming speeches from the party since it came to power in 2010, that barely even broached the subjects of sustainability and climate change, surely now – of all occasions – was the perfect opportunity for it to grasp the issues by the horns and promise action. Or at least mention the issues.

As it was, all we were given was an unsustainable keynote from the chancellor, a disappointingly sparse speech from the prime minister and embarrassing pseudo-scientific nonsense from the environment secretary, who said that global warming could actually benefit the UK.

All in all, the conference did nothing but add to the opposition against the government – which, to think, once badged itself as the “greenest ever”.

The Conservative party’s failure was offensive to its historical roots, which lie firmly in conservation, responsibility and a preservation of the natural environment (its name is a bit of a clue). Writing in the London Evening Standard in March, Independent editor Amol Rajan described the coalition’s green fatigue as “a betrayal of conservatism itself”. Few would disagree.

So where do we go from here? The Tories – and their coalition partners the Lib Dems – have spectacularly failed the general public on all things sustainable, environmental and green. An opportunity for Labour to come back with strong words and action, you’d think? Perhaps, but Ed Miliband and his colleagues also appear reticent to step up to the mark.

But while our national politicians have provided us with underwhelming policies at a time when proper leadership – now more than ever – is needed, there is an opportunity for another key group of decision makers to make a difference: our city mayors.

Mayors rule the roost at a local level. They make decisions that directly affect their constituents. They make these decisions with the long-term in mind, rather than simply the next election. Whereas their peers in government umm and ahh over policies for months – sometimes years – mayors simply get things done.

Their role becomes more important as the world becomes increasingly urbanised. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that 100 years ago, just 20% of people lived in urban areas. By 1990, this increased to 40%, then more than half by 2010. The WHO estimates that 60% will live in a city in 2030, increasing to 70% by 2050.

Anywhere between 5.8 billion and 7.6 billion people – based on the range of population growth estimates for 2050 – could therefore be living in cities within the next four decades.

These cities – some of which are global cities (such as London) or megacities (such as Tokyo), with more than 10 million inhabitants – are the centre of financial, social and environmental innovation. They are the key to sustainable growth and a sustainable future. And their mayors can and must lead this transition.

In a recent TED talk, American political theorist Benjamin Barber hypothesised that it was in fact mayors, and not national politicians, who held the greatest power to effect tangible change.

Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, said, ‘I’ll fix your sewers if you spare me your sermons’”, Barber said at a recent Interdependence Day conference in Dublin.

“He was speaking to Jews and Muslims and Christians; he was saying it was his job to fix problems, to operate beyond ideologies.”

Also in attendance at the event was the lord mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, whose comments typified why mayors can help kickstart an evolution, encouraging sustainable entrepreneurism, innovation and invention.

I don’t control policing or education; I can’t fix potholes”, he said. “But I do have the power to be relentlessly positive for Belfast and galvanise the energy of the city.”

In London, few would disagree that Boris Johnson has acted as a great spokesperson for the capital. Since his election in 2008, he has become one of London’s most ardent champions, with David Cameron calling him a “brilliant mayor” at the Conservative party conference this week.

Meanwhile across the pond in the US, Michael Bloomberg – mayor of New York City – is a vocal supporter of environmental and social issues. Speaking about the C40 Cities initiative, which brings together the world’s megacities in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Bloomberg said, “While international negotiations continue to make incremental progress, C40 Cities are forging ahead. Collectively they have taken more than 4,700 actions to tackle climate change, and the will to do more is stronger than ever. As innovators and practitioners, our cities are at the forefront of this issue – arguably the greatest challenge of our time.”

The next lord mayor of the City of London – a role that involves promoting the City of London specifically as a place to do business (Johnson’s remit covers the entirety of Greater London – a much larger area) – is lawyer Fiona Woolf CBE.

Woolf was president of the Law Society of England and Wales in 2006/07 and is currently alderman for Candlewick in London. She is set to replace current lord mayor Roger Gifford in November, becoming only the second woman to hold the position since 1189.

During a keynote speech at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association’s (UKSIF) annual lecture recently, she outlined the size of the task ahead for the City of London. Her appearance was timely, with nominations for the sustainable finance category of the 2013/14 Sustainable City Awards opening in the same week.

The City’s challenge, Woolf said, is to find new areas of long-term finance. She pointed to the work of Tomorrow’s Company, a London-based thinktank that aims to change the behaviour of the business world, and described short-termism as an “elephant in the room” for the City.

She added, “The City’s cluster of businesses, institutions and talent can contribute to long-term value creation and sustainable development – that’s jobs – and the planet – which is of course not just protection of the environment or natural resources, but also a resilience – and also help the wider society develop solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

I have to say, when you think about it, that creates opportunities for us which are utterly delicious.”

It was encouraging to hear the future lord mayor speak so eloquently and passionately about the City’s place at the forefront of sustainability (former Tory MP Peter Ainsworth told Blue & Green Tomorrow recently, “The City doesn’t exist in a moral vacuum; it’s part of everything we do. Its purpose is to make good stuff happen. It’s a service industry that forgot the word ‘service’”) and about long-termism specifically.

Woolf’s sentiments follow similar comments from Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who in August said called for finance to play a more “socially useful” role.

The City of London can be proud that it now has her as its champion. One former colleague said, “She was always a trailblazer. Forget the fact that she was a woman.”

However, the final word must go to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US president, who, in a 1926 essay called The City in Modern Life, wrote, “We cannot afford merely to sit down and deplore the evils of city life as inevitable, when cities are constantly growing, both absolutely and relatively.

We must set ourselves vigorously about the task of improving them; and this task is now well begun.”

Further reading:

Invest, spend and vote sustainability: why National Ethical Investment Week matters

We need Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats and nationalist parties that getsustainability

Sustainability could hold the key to 2015 general election result

Conservatism and conservation: why Tories are born to be green

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Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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How Climate Change Altered this Engineer’s Life

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how climate change affect our lives
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Rawpixel.com -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/rawpixel

Living the life of an engineer likely sounds pretty glamorous: you are educated and highly regarded, typically have high paying gigs, and with the breadth of knowledge and array of fields of specialty, your possibility for jobs is usually immense.  But what if there was something else that needed your attention? Something bigger than just being an engineer, going to work every day and doing the same technical tasks typically associated with the profession?

For Kevin McCroary, that is exactly how it played out.  A successful engineer, gainfully employed in a prosperous job, a simple trip to the Philippines made him see that there was a bigger issue at hand than using his engineer training in a traditional profession.  This bigger issue was that of climate change.  And working as a volunteer for underprivileged children in the Philippines, he saw first-hand the extensive pollution and poverty that existed here and that impacted the livelihood of these kids and their families.

Upon returning home, from his trip to the Philippines he had a new perspective of the impact we as individuals and as humanity have on the earth, and more than that Kevin wanted to know more.  He started to do some research and study these human-environmental interactions, and shortly thereafter ended up in Greenland.  There, he spoke to a man who had lost his home in a tsunami, and, who, through consistent weather tracking could indeed confirm that the current weather trends were “strange:” there was undeniably a general warming tendency happening in the arctic, causing an array of negative effects.

The combination of these observations, as well as his own research, led Kevin to conclude that something had to be done.  With that in mind, he launched his project Legend Bracelet.  The mission is simple: create a reminder of the legacy we are leaving behind.  As individuals and as humanity, we are leaving behind an imprint on the earth, and the magnitude of it is something that needs to be brought to the forefront of public awareness.  The idea is to have a bracelet that can serve as a daily reminder of the impact on the earth that each of us can have every day, regardless of how big or small.  The bracelet has two capsules: the first is filled with sand or earth, and the second is empty.  As the owner, you are to fill the empty one with your own earth, carrying it with you as a reminder and symbol of your connection and commitment to helping look after our environment.

We are all impacted by climate change, and we all have a responsibility to help.  And it can start with something as simple as putting on a bracelet.  Support Kevin on his Kickstarter campaign for Legend Bracelet, tell others about it, or take action in your own way and play your part in slowing down the effects of climate change.  You may think “but I’m just one person!” You are indeed.  But so is he.  Every change starts with one.

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