Mayors gather to discuss cities' response to global warming

Juneau mayor Bruce Botelho talks about affect on tree species

Posted: Monday, September 18, 2006

ANCHORAGE - Mayors from 32 U.S cities were urged Sunday to take leadership roles in slowing global warming by taking steps in their communities.

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"We need to find the leadership in this country," said Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City. "If it's not going to come from the top down ... we need to push from the bottom up."

He spoke at a conference hosted by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich for municipal leaders from 17 states. The meeting is focused on how local leaders can strengthen their communities by reducing their contributions to global climate change and preparing for it.

Anderson said there is no longer a dispute over warming and that it's due to the burning of fossil fuels that add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, trapping more warmth.

The only uncertainty, he said, is how fast the globe is warming and where the effects will show up.

Mayors kicked off the conference by swapping stories of effects of warming in their communities.

Two Washington state mayors, Rosemarie Ives of Redmond and Royce Pollard of Vancouver, said they have seen warming's effects on salmon in their rivers.

"The fish gave us our first indication," Pollard said.

Ives said warmer water has affected salmon runs and the community has responded with steps to restore habitat such as tree planting along the river.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said warming has affected tree species such as western yellow cedar, which is under severe stress because of changes in the freeze-thaw cycle.

"The average snow fall has decreased by two feet and the average annual temperature has increased by four degrees," Botelho said.

John Engen, mayor of Missoula, Mont., said his community has had more 90 degree days than anyone can remember. Warming's effect, he said, has had a huge financial impact.

"We catch fire in western Montana and millions of dollars have been devoted to fighting wildfires," he said.

Mayors will spend three days discussing how they can reduce their cities' contributions to warming and how cities can adjust to changes scientists predict will spread to other states.

The conference follows meetings on the same subject hosted last year by Anderson, the U.N.-sponsored International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and actor Robert Redford.

The burning of carbon-based fuels adds to naturally occurring greenhouse gases that retain Earth's heat.

Accelerated warming has been most apparent at the Earth's poles. Two NASA studies unveiled Wednesday indicated that winter Arctic sea ice is melting far faster than before, a trend that researchers fear will threaten the ocean's delicate ecosystem.

Elsewhere in Alaska, researchers have documented thinning glaciers and effects on the boreal forest from drought and warmer temperatures in which destructive insects can thrive.

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