Australia and the United States have many things in common. Unfortunately, in the past few years we have both come to experience increased natural disasters due to climate change – including catastrophic wildfires.
For the past 10 years, I’ve served as Mayor of Lancaster, California. This summer, our state has experienced some of the worst wildfires ever to hit California; thus far costing around US$1.6 billion in fire suppression costs alone and tragically taking numerous lives. These disastrous fires, that have affected the lives of so many, are starting earlier in the season and lasting longer as a result of intensifying climate change.
In Australia, as the warmer months approach, firefighters are staring down the barrel of a similarly catastrophic summer, following an unusually warm and dry winter, the fifth hottest on record.
We know that reducing greenhouse gas pollution from our energy and transport sectors will prevent worsening climate change, and the technology is available to enable us to do it – and yet, global emissions, along with temperatures, continue to rise.
Our inaction stems from the fact that climate change has become a political hot potato, seemingly fraught with controversy.
As a proud Republican, I believe that taking a strong, decisive approach to tackling climate change is consistent with my conservative background. Preserving what we have so that we can pass it on to our children and grandchildren is a concept at the very heart of conservatism.
The City of Lancaster, a politically conservative, predominantly Republican community located about 90 kilometres outside Los Angeles, serves as a prime example of how municipalities can take local control and blaze a trail toward sustainability.
With our sights set on becoming a global leader in alternative energy, our city has created local jobs, investment, and growth while driving down unemployment rates – as well as greenhouse gas pollution.
We didn’t wait for our nation or state to take action. We were the first city in California to mandate Zero Net Energy standards – requiring solar for all new homes built in Lancaster. We were also the first city in our region to forge own our Community Choice Aggregator and our own energy utility – which offers residents the option of 100 per cent renewable energy.
Proactively developing public-private partnerships with other forward-thinking entities, we put Lancaster on the map, attracting international leaders in clean tech, like the BYD electric bus factory, to set up shop here. As a result of our progressive relationship with BYD, our public transit agency will soon be the first in America with a 100 per cent all-electric bus fleet.
BYD alone employs hundreds of workers in our city, and has recently expanded to triple its former size. The grand opening for the expansion was a bi-partisan event attended by Democrat and Republican officials alike, including the House Majority Leader (a Republican) and California Senate President Pro Tem (a Democrat), demonstrating that such sustainable industry is key, regardless of one’s political party.
Whether in local or federal government, we must work together and pioneer forward-thinking policy that puts our residents – and their jobs and livelihoods – rather than ideology, first.
I know that Australian cities and towns are also moving towards tackling climate change at the local level. Australian local governments have signed up for the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership, committing to take practical action to reduce emissions.
Conservative-led councils are listening to the concerns of their residents and planning for a sustainable, prosperous future, such as that of the City of Brisbane, which has transformed its local government operations to reduce energy use and install renewable energy and has recently been certified carbon-neutral.
While we’re seeing some great action at the local level, nations need strong policy at all levels of government to make the urgent changes needed to combat climate change. In both the U.S. and in Australia, federal action on climate change has not come as quickly as many would like. Action on climate change cannot wait any longer.
The clock is ticking. Climate change is here. The science is irrefutable, and we’re already feeling its effects. If we don’t take action to increase renewable energy and reduce our emissions now, we will miss the window of opportunity to halt escalating global temperatures.
This is no time to play politics. Political party affiliation shouldn’t determine whether we are for or against combating climate change. Officials in all levels of government worldwide must put ideology aside and commit to policy that drives down energy and transport emissions.
Local government officials can help lead the charge by taking action in their own jurisdictions and partnering with other like-minded municipalities to urge policy changes on a larger scale. Together, we can do this. Divided, we face an uncertain future.
R. Rex Parris, Mayor of Lancaster, California
Mr Parris will be speaking to Australian local government leaders as the international keynote speaker for the Cities Power Partnership Summit, held this month in Kiama.