Dirty words? Not for San Antonio’s mayor, unafraid to say “climate change”
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San Antonio climate-action advocates' September events include participation in the worldwide Moving Planet rally, being organized by the 350.0rg group to call for "moving beyond fossil fuels."

With prominent Republicans increasingly questioning the credibility of mainstream climate science, Democratic former Vice-President Al Gore, probably the world’s best known advocate of action against climate change, fumed last month that the very word “climate” is “no longer acceptable in mixed company – meaning bipartisan company.”

Others active in the climate arena had already been voicing similar thoughts.

The liberal climate blogger Joe Romm unhappily noted early this year that President Obama, discussing energy in his State of the Union speech, “could not bring himself to utter the words ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming.’”

In May, the Texas state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon of Texas A&M University, asked on his blog: “Has ‘climate’ become ‘That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named’ in Washington?’”

Even if “climate change” and “global warming” are now politically dirty words for some government officials, however, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro isn’t one of them.

Castro this week proclaimed that September is “Climate Change Awareness Month” in the Alamo City, where he recently unveiled a suite of actions aimed at making it a capital of green energy.

In issuing the proclamation, Castro was adopting an idea of the local affiliate of 350.org, an international organization advocating action against climate change that was founded by author and activist Bill McKibben. The group is planning “a worldwide rally” called Moving Planet on Sept. 24 with the theme “A Day to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels.”

“The City of San Antonio understands the importance of balancing the need to meet increasing energy demands with good environmental stewardship,” Castro said. “To make the most impact, all of us must share in the responsibility to adopt sustainable practices to preserve natural resources and protect our environment.”

An announcement by his office noted that the 350SanAntonio.org coalition would be “working on raising public awareness of global climate change by sponsoring and supporting public events during the month of September,” and “a special focus of the month will be on transportation choices that reduce or eliminate fossil fuels.”

Writing in his Lone Star Green column, Greg Harman, editor of the San Antonio Current newspaper, discussed Castro’s proclamation and the various planned activities in the context of the recent history of energy policy in the municipal government:

Depending on how seriously residents take Mayor Julián Castro’s proclamation this week … September could develop into a time to start charting a municipal path to averting future suffering in our increasingly cooked corner of the planet. While the Castro administration and the one preceding it have vigorously pursued carbon-lite electricity options and clean-tech jobs, neither has committed to reducing San Antonio’s greenhouse gas emissions — those emissions blamed for raising global temperatures — directly.

Recognizing the hesitance of local leaders, a middle-school science teacher started pushing at the level of committee. For all the progress that has been made in San Antonio, including the Mission Verde sustainability plan and Castro’s SA2020 values-clarifying exercise, Mobi Warren said “the actual words ‘climate change,’ it seemed like there was a feeling we couldn’t put that word out there yet.”

Yet not only did Warren find her idea for a Climate Change Awareness Month, complete with screenings of topical films at the Pearl [the former Pearl Brewery, now a “culinary and cultural gathering place”], embraced by members of the Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee, but Mayor Castro quickly volunteered a proclamation when it became clear she wouldn’t be able to appear before the full council prior to September 1. To get the council to wrestle directly with the ogre of climate change remains a slow train coming.

Mayoral proclamations are often routine matters, arguably without much lasting (or sometimes even immediate) significance. Castro’s proclamation and endorsement of the climate change awareness activities, however, provided another telling illustration of widening divisions over climate and energy issues – not just between many Democrats and many Republicans, but also, to a notable extent in Texas, between municipal officials who don’t dispute the mainstream consensus in climate science and top state officials, including Gov. Rick Perry, who do.

Perry, running for the Republican presidential nomination, earned international attention last month for charging that many climate scientists are manipulating data supporting scientific conclusions about man-made warming that he had called “a contrived, phony mess” in his 2010 book Fed Up! The state, meanwhile, is legally challenging federal regulations to limit industrial greenhouse emissions and refusing to help implement them.

Among other municipal government actions, 31 Texas cities are signatories of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, which is based explicitly on climate science. They include most of the state’s largest cities – San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth and El Paso – plus others such as College Station, Sugar Land and Texarkana. Houston, while it has not signed that pact, has been involved in climate-focused activities such as the international Clinton Climate Initiative.

The proclamation by the Democrat Castro provided one more example of city-level engagement with climate change in Texas and stood in blunt contrast to accusations such as Perry’s. It said, in part:

“Much of the changing weather patterns can be attributed to human activities, and there is a need to plan for an energy-efficient, carbon-constrained, and climate-focused future.”

San Antonio’s KSAT reported that at a press conference announcing the proclamation, Castro said that “the overwhelming scientific evidence has demonstrated that humans’ activities do impact, to an extent, climate change.”

– Bill Dawson

Image credit: 350.org