Bristol to Brooklyn, Paris to Pittsburgh: restless cities act themselves on climate crisis

It would seem there are major convergences happening at the moment. We've been interested in the rise of municipalism and the"rebel/restless cities" movement - where large towns and cities have looked at the paralysis or corruption of national/international governances, and decided to strike out towards their own local solutions to systemic problems. A rich archive of stories, policies, initiatives and experiments has built up - some of which we've tried to capture here.

What seems to have happened, post the IPCC's stark climate crisis report, is that these city forces have found a deadline - something to give all their participatory methods some focus. What would it mean to be a carbon-neutral city by 2030 or 40? How would the human, built and tech resources be amassed and orchestrated? What could it concretely mean for how citizens in their city act, individually and together?

We note two clear examples of what - to pun a little - we might call "extinction municipalism" (after Extinction Rebellion). The first, from a UK locus, is the declaration of Bristol that it will become a carbon-neutral city by 2030. 

As the Guardian puts it, "the target is much more radical than the UK government’s national target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 and comes amid growing concern about interlinked ecological crisis, from climate breakdown to extinction." More below from the Bristol Green Party rep, Carla Denyer, who proposed the measure:

Denyer said that the Bristol declaration could see a focus on renewable electricity, carbon neutral buildings, congestion charges and investment in clean transport infrastructure.

It could also have far-reaching implications for big-ticket projects like the proposed expansion of Bristol airport.

“It will mean viewing all policy decisions through their impact on greenhouse gas emissions,” she added.

Denyer said that although there would be changes for residents, they would lead to wider benefits.

“It should be possible to achieve while maintaining the same or even improved quality of life, because changes that reduce carbon dioxide emissions often also address inequality, public health, air quality, etc.

“For example, encouraging active travel and public transport – that would reduce congestion as well as improving health outcomes by reducing air pollution and increasing uptake of cycling and walking.

Bristol is responding to the call of US cities such as Berkeley and Hoboken, who are supporting Climate Mobilisation in the US (led by the Democratic Socialist congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez )

But the UK city is also part of the global C40 cities, all of which set ambitious emissions targets to respond to the Paris agreement a few years ago. C40 cities (here they all are) are home to more than 700 million people and drive 25% of the global economy. It's no small constituency.

Here's a documentary movie from the heart of their activism - Paris to Pittsburgh, trailer at the top of the post. Why Pittsburgh? Because in an anti-climate-mitigation speech, Trump quoted the immortal line, "I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris". The mayor of the town, Bill Paduto, stepped up to denounce Trump, and put his own city in the forefront of carbon-reduction.

It's all an exciting prospect - superpowered localisation, working to a planetary deadline.