Why Cities Must Lead The Way To Cleaner Air

01/25/2018 01:34 pm ET

As the new Mayor of Atlanta, the capital city that anchors the ninth-largest metro in the United States, I take air pollution, the threat of climate change, and the effort to address both very seriously. 

Atlanta is a rapidly growing city that has been powered historically by the engines of transportation ― the railroad lines upon which we were founded, the major interstates that intersect here, and the air traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest passenger airport.

The tremendous growth in our urban core, facilitated by the popularity of the world-famous Atlanta BeltLine, presents enormous challenges, but these are issues which we are uniquely positioned to meet. 

We are proud to be the first city in the South to have the foresight and wherewithal to build its own mass-transit system, MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority), which was a major component in our winning bid to host the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996. MARTA now serves as the backbone of an expanding public-transportation system which will provide greater connectivity for working families to our job centers and world-class universities.

Still, like many urban population centers across the country, Atlanta has suffered for years from poor air quality, from ground-level ozone, particulate matter and smog. But after decades of local, state and federal efforts to tighten air quality standards through the Clean Air Act and then meet those standards, our air quality has improved. 

Last year, Atlanta reached a key milestone, meeting a new, stronger air quality standard for ozone. This accomplishment shows progress — but there’s still more work to be done. 

My mayoral campaign was fueled by a progressive agenda and the promise to find meaningful solutions to economic disparity and the lack of affordable housing in our most vulnerable communities.

Air pollution is an equal-opportunity toxin. But recent studies show that it affects the mortality of women and people of color much more than others; children in low-income, often minority communities suffer disproportionately from the impacts of air pollution. As an African-American mother of four beautiful children, all of whom suffer from asthma, the dangers of air pollution hit home with me more than most.

Ozone is known to trigger asthma attacks, which have an alarming potential to send children to the hospital. In fact, asthma is the leading condition for admission to the inpatient services and emergency rooms at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Cities can work on many levels to promote cleaner air. As we are doing in Atlanta, we can expand mass transit, use electric vehicles in our public fleets, increase the inventory of parks and greenspace, introduce solar energy to municipal buildings and partner with our business sector on conservation goals. The city of Atlanta leads all U.S. cities in President Barack Obama’s Better Building Challenge, which calls for a 20 percent reduction in water and energy usage by 2020.

On May 1, 2017, Atlanta became the 27th city in the United States to commit to transitioning to 100 percent clean energy, thanks to a resolution passed unanimously by the Atlanta City Council and approved by my predecessor, Mayor Kasim Reed. Atlanta is the biggest southern city to set such an ambitious goal, and we are proud of our bold leadership at the regional, state and global level in confronting the threat of climate change.

Cities can, and must, lead the way in accelerating this critical transition to renewable energy sources. As home to half the world’s population and generating 80 percent of global GDP, cities are where the future is happening now. 

We not only have the capacity to act, it is morally incumbent that we do so. Low-income and minority communities are disproportionately impacted by the adverse impacts of extreme weather. Our most vulnerable citizens, such as children and the elderly, are hit hardest by the public health consequences of toxic dumping, untreated brownfields, and air pollution. Climate action is not only about protecting our environment and our economy, it is about justice and quality of life for our communities. 

Atlanta’s 100 percent Clean Energy Pledge is a social contract to protect the health and welfare of our residents. As such, we call upon the people of Atlanta to join us in the clean energy movement. This is not just a plan drafted in a vacuum at City Hall — our aim is to unlock the potential of Atlantans to take action to make our city more resilient to the shocks and stresses of a warming planet.

Resilience and climate adaptation start with all of us. I invite you to join us in executing this strategy to make 100 percent clean energy a reality for Atlanta. It is our hope that this strategy will inspire us all to work together to create a bigger, better, and more equitable city of the future.

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