Last week, National Geographic and United Technologies hosted a summit on Urban Expeditions in Washington, D.C. as part of an on-going multiyear project spotlighting the rise of cities and innovative, sustainable solutions for managing urban growth.
At the time when Gary Knell, president and CEO of the National Geographic Society, expressed his concerns about the intensity of population growth and its impacts on cities already stressed with climate change effects, President Trump was announcing his directive to withdraw form the Paris Climate Agreement just a few blocks away.
This announcement colored the rest of the program in which panelists across business, government and NGO sectors discussed a range of issues related to "Having it All - People + Planet + Prosperity" (panelists Audrey Choi/Morgan Stanley, Dr. Alaa Murabit/United Nations, Eric Shaw/District of Columbia, Nancy Young/Airlines for America, moderated by Dan Gilgoff/National Geographic), and "Getting it Done - Meet the Visionaries" (panelists Lucia Athens/City of Austin, Jeffrey Brodsky/Related Companies, Michael Curtin/DC Central Kitchen, Camilla Seth/JP Morgan & Chase, moderated by Brooke Runnette/National Geographic). The discussions delved into the challenges of rising consumption as the global population reached 9 billion people by 2050, and the need for extreme efficiency in life-sustaining areas like food, buildings, and transport. The urgency of the issue is radical when we consider that "Every day, 180,000 people move to urban areas. Urbanization is creating an urgent need for sustainable actions and solutions."
And while President Trump's verbal pledge to withdraw the U.S. from this critical global compact to reduce carbon emissions across borders and industries certainly rocked the spirit of the Urban Expeditions summit, it also energized the veracity of climate change impacts and the need for "life-long learning" as the best way to prepare for the changes ahead. This point was underscored by the Washington Post in its recent piece on the Paris deal, and how "altogether, if Trump acted as quickly as possible to withdraw from the agreement, the process could be completed Nov. 4, 2020, at the earliest. That’s the day after the next presidential election."
It's highly encouraging to learn that the Paris agreement is a living compact, with options to re-enter it's targets and measures at any time upon withdrawing from it through a formal process that becomes effective within 30 days. And while in theory, our next president can restart the agreement immediately upon taking office in 2021, there are more actions we can take at the local level now to supplement the actions pledged by the federal government in the Paris agreement.
Borrowing some inspiration from panelist Dr. Murabit during her remarks at Urban Expeditions, "we forgo the important for the urgent", here are some practical and important actions we can take at the local level to keep the momentum of the Paris agreement moving:
- Read the Fine Print! Make a personal commitment to actually skim-read the source documents that journalists and bloggers reference in their pieces, like THIS and THIS.
- Get involved! Look into your city's local sustainability initiatives, such as we have in our Sustainable D.C. 2.0 and its many programs to transform the District of Columbia into the healthiest, greenest and most livable city in America by 2030.
- Go green-er! Add more plants to your home or your garden or your backyard. Ensure you're using ecological products and fertilizers, and share with others the benefits you may be experiencing from cleaner indoor air because of your plants.
- Talk Sustainability at Work! Engage with your boss, office manager and colleagues in talks about adopting healthier, sustainable office protocols as presented by successful building rating systems like USGBC's LEED, IWBI's WELL, and Center for Active Design's FITWEL.
- Share your voice! Use the power of social networks to advocate for cleaner air, water, and food: