Viewpoints: Sacramento can lead the way in response to climate change

Published: Monday, Jun. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 9A
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 17, 2013 - 7:02 am

In my 12 years as a professional basketball player in the NBA, I learned a lot about resilience. You lose a tough game one night, and find a way to come back strong and win the next. Resilience is a quality you have to develop with your team, and as mayor of Sacramento, it's now a key priority for my city.

There is a new movement emerging in cities, towns, and counties to become more resilient and able to bounce back from serious disruptions and disasters. If you look at the past two years, it's not hard to see why.

Virtually no community in America has been untouched by a major storm, hurricane or flood, a major power outage, a scorching heat wave or a withering drought.

More frequent extreme weather, fueled by a changing climate, has cost us untold lives and a staggering $188 billion in 2011-12. And it has arrived on top of devastating job losses and economic recession.

Local governments were on the front lines in these challenges, and we can't afford to ignore them. That's why one of the most important questions for any mayor in 2013 is: How resilient is my community?

With extreme weather on the rise, how do we protect the elderly and other vulnerable populations, as well as our businesses and infrastructure? When the inevitable swings in energy prices return, how can we lessen the impact? With our economic recovery still uncertain, how can we strengthen and diversify our local economy?

The answers to these questions lie in our ability to transform adversity into opportunity. That's a big part of what resilience means to me, and why I've taken a leadership role as chairman of the Resilient Communities for America campaign.

My goal is to share a message with thousands of my fellow local elected officials: Our environmental and energy challenges are also our economic opportunities.

We can create more resilient communities, and it starts with your leadership.

Let me explain what this approach to resilience looks like in Sacramento.

We're creating an "Emerald Valley" with a vision to be the greenest region in the country and one of the nation's top hubs for clean technology jobs and innovation.

Our Clean Energy Sacramento program, for example, provides 100 percent financing for property owners for energy efficiency, water conservation and renewable energy upgrades, leveraging private investment with zero public funds.

When homeowners, schools and businesses retrofit their buildings and scale up renewable energy, the benefits are incredible. We create local jobs, reduce the carbon emissions driving climate change, strengthen our local energy independence, protect ourselves from rising prices, and reduce demand on the power grid during heat waves. That's resilience in action.

Local food is another great example. If a disaster struck and disrupted long-distance food supplies, could Sacramento feed itself?

We're an agricultural powerhouse and America's farm-to-fork capital. We have an amazing working landscape that includes production agriculture and farmers and ranchers who grow for local and regional markets.

And we've set a long-term goal for the Sacramento region to purchase 20 percent of our food from our own backyard, protecting farmland and wildlife habitat.

To meet this goal, we're training new farmers, upgrading our distribution infrastructure and creating demand for fresh, healthy food. Again, resilience in action.

Also, Sacramento is planting 3 million new trees to help cool the city during heat waves.

Across the country, other leading cities are taking similar actions to prepare for a changing climate.

Mayor Kristin Jacobs in Broward County, Fla., is a trailblazer when it comes to adapting to sea-level rise.

In Texas, El Paso Mayor John Cook has led incredible efforts to conserve water and prepare for worsening droughts.

In Des Moines, Iowa, Mayor Frank Cownie is strengthening infrastructure to control the destructive floods that Iowa faces too often.

We've got plenty of inspiration but far less time. Creating more resilient cities and counties is an urgent priority for America.

If we start today, we can make safer and healthier places for ourselves, and preserve them for our children and grandchildren.

Kevin Johnson is mayor of the city of Sacramento and chairman of the Resilient Communities for America campaign. Learn more at resilientamerica.org.

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