Despite the decision of the United States to pull out of the Paris climate accords, there is still much leadership to be found in the U.S. when it comes to the environment and fighting climate change. In particular, this leadership is found where we also have some combination of the following five ingredients:
- Strong policy leaders at the state or city level, who are willing to lean-forward on new initiatives, oftentimes in collaboration with private sector leaders;
- Private sector leadership, with local corporate cultures reinforcing global environmental values;
- Higher than average per capita income, reflecting on average higher degrees of educational preparedness and resistance to misleading claims from the climate-denier camp; higher income levels also allow for discretionary spending and daily routines, which can support environmentally friendly decision-making;
- A cosmopolitan population with broad cultural exposure to global trends;
- Direct exposure to the risks of climate change, e.g. rising sea-levels
To the extent these factors are present in American cities and states, (and perhaps also globally), we tend to find centers of American leadership on pollution, plastics, recycling, climate change and environmental innovation.
San Francisco is an example of one such city in America where these factors exist in abundance:
Exposure to risk: As ocean levels continue to rise, much of the Bay Area will be flooded, resulting in catastrophe for the city.
Wealth: San Francisco is very wealthy. The mean annual income for the city is $104,879, and the five surrounding counties make the list of the richest 1000 counties in the U.S.
Corporate culture: The presence of environmental leaders and tech giants such as Google and Facebook only serve to reinforce the progressiveness and globalism of the city.
Cosmopolitan: Two thirds of San Francisco’s population is not native born, and so their politics are bereft of any kind of nativism.
Strong policy: Politically, the city is, and has been led by visionary figures such as Nancy Pelosi and Gavin Newsom, (but this is not to say that the more “left leaning” a city is, the more eco-friendly it is). However, in this example, liberalism and environmental sustainability appear to be mutually loved in the city.
And these ingredients produce the expected effects. As documented by the San Francisco Department of the Environment, the following are examples of initiatives which all cities could utilize:
- A recycling rate, 77%, which is one of the best recycling rates for a city in the country, (also one of the best in the world);
- A citywide ban on single-use plastic bags;
- A plan to become a zero-waste city by 2020, meaning that no trash will go to landfills, or to incinerators, simply because there will be no trash output;
- Numerous local farmer markets, some of which are open all year;
- A goal to use 50% renewable energy by 2020;
- A very inclusive environmental program – for example, San Francisco employs disabled people to further help the recycling effort.
My intent is to convey that some of the eco-ingredients still present in the United States – in many cities and states – produce the kind of outcomes our planet desperately needs.
As a young (16 year old) American man, I find cities like San Francisco to be inspiring examples at a time when some people may have the impression that the United States is not leading at all. And this is not meant to denigrate other cities, or accuse anyone, anywhere of being poor environmentalists. Every city must do its best with the ingredients it has. And it is heartening to see true heroes in the fight against pollution and climate change everywhere in the world.