Copenhagen: just add water

Los Angeles City HallThis Monday I had a chance to meet with Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa before he heads to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. The Mayor will be meeting with mayors from the world's 40 largest cities that are engaged in climate response, and with other world leaders to share strategies and make commitments to action they can take on the local and regional level.

The mayor asked TreePeople and several other local environmental groups what messages he should take to share with the other participants and delegates.

When given the chance, I quoted a truly great Los Angeles Times op-ed and urged the Mayor to "Just add water" to the Copenhagen agenda.

In short, there are several critical reasons why:

1) As temperatures rise, so does evaporation and the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect and adding further warming;
2) Climate change is already adversely impacting critical water supplies in dry regions like Australia, the Middle East and the American West, and is expected to worsen exponentially over time; and
3) Despite scientific consensus, the percentage of Americans concerned about climate change has dropped to 35%; however, 87% of those polled worried about increasing freshwater shortages.

The point is that people are concerned and ready to take action on issues they see are readily affecting their lives today.

I told the mayor that as the elected leader of a massive city that is already experiencing pain and costs of climate change, not just with drought and long term water shortages, but also with deadly fires, and heat storms, he can tell credible stories of the reality and thereby help counteract the denial and belief by some that climate change doesn't exist.

Further, I said that he can share this in a positive light because the people of Los Angeles are already beginning to respond to these threats to our water supply and our safety. As opposed to conventional political opinion that says they won't, I see the willingness of the people of Los Angeles to act wisely, make changes to their lifestyle, green our city, prepare for the future, and make it better.

As examples, LA voters approved a sales tax increase by a two-thirds margin in support of a huge measure to fix public transportation, Proposition R. And despite his staff insisting that it was crazy to announce new drought-based watering restrictions on a rainy day, Mayor Villaraigosa went ahead and did it. And Los Angeles residents have responded to his call, cutting water use this by 18%, to the lowest level of water use in almost twenty years.

I often say that Los Angeles is experiencing "early onset" climate change. But it's not all bad. The good news is that the people of our city and its elected leaders are not content with rising concentrations of greenhouse gases, nor with inaction in the face of increased risks of drought, heat waves, and wildfire. We want to see a renewed push for investment to save water, create green jobs, and reduce emissions.

Los Angeles is moving ahead with climate adaptation, confident that this course will be good not just for residents, but for business too, as a major study by the McKinsey Institute reported early this year, warning of a 40% shortage of water worldwide by 2030 if we cannot make changes.

For today, let's focus on the good news. Los Angelenos are ready to act, and have proven it in recent years, with their votes and with their water-conserving actions. I am confident our Mayor will carry that message to Copenhagen, and return home ready to support measures to keep our city safe, green, and healthy.