Urban Renewal | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Urban Renewal

How Pittsburgh could save the world ... or at least itself

Illustration by Rhonda Libbey
Illustration by Rhonda Libbey

Drought, heat waves and wildfires, rising oceans and floods: Humanity is already coping with the effects of climate change. And worse is likely to come. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists, for instance, projects that if climate change is left unabated, by the year 2070, Western Pennsylvania might have a climate like that of Northern Alabama. You can expect more dangerously hot days; higher levels of lung-damaging ground-level ozone; more infectious diseases and agricultural pests; more summer droughts; and more flooding. 

So what to do about it? 

In Pittsburgh, plenty of people are working to reduce our "carbon footprint" — the volume of fossil fuels we burn, and thus our impact on a warming climate. One local initiative, the Pittsburgh 2030 District, is encouraging Downtown property owners to halve their energy use by 2030. Municipal governments have put sustainability on their agendas, while university researchers and nonprofits have made it their mission. Groups like Transition Pittsburgh promote grassroots planning for a low-carbon future, with more self-sufficient local economies. We've got more bike lanes, rain barrels and community gardens.

But none of those initiatives go far enough. Isolated, small-scale efforts will never achieve the massive emissions reductions — as much as 80 percent — scientists say we must achieve to stem climate change. We need everybody on board, and now.

Yes, more trees would help — their shade softens the "heat island" effect that results from sun reflecting off bricks and concrete. More local agriculture will help protect us from food shortages that can result from extreme weather elsewhere. But this week, City Paper focuses on several broad areas our region has only begun to address. How do we make our buildings — all our buildings — more green? How do we make transit more sustainable? How about the way we handle sewage and stormwater — and the trash we stack curbside?

Doing this right will mean a better quality of life — one that is less polluted, more secure. But we can't wait for leadership from a hopelessly divided federal government, or from frack-happy Republican officials in Harrisburg. Instead, we must respond as a community.

So with a mayoral race upon us, we ask, "Can Pittsburgh become the greenest city in the country? If not, why not?"


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