By: Sarah Wesseler (Yale Climate Connections)
For Shannon Binns, fighting climate change means not talking about climate change.
Binns is executive director of Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit that advocates for smart growth in booming Charlotte, North Carolina. Since founding the organization in 2010, he’s led initiatives ranging from an annual sustainability awards program to a popular competition promoting alternatives to solo driving.
But although the ideas he champions – less sprawl, fewer cars – mirror those recommended by climate experts, carbon is not one of his talking points.
“It’s not something that’s talked about in Charlotte, because it’s so politicized,” he said. “We’ve just learned over the years that we can impact climate change without having to talk about climate change.”
In a partisan political climate divided over global warming, Binns’s work presents an instructive example of how “co-benefits” can be harnessed to support mitigation efforts.
According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, “action on urban-scale mitigation often depends on the ability to relate climate change mitigation efforts to local co-benefits.” All cities face a number of challenges, the thinking runs, which can range from environmental pollution to economic malaise. At local levels, these issues affect a wide range of people in an immediate and highly personal way. Finding solutions for these problems that also lower greenhouse gas emissions can be an effective way to build support for climate initiatives.
Sprawl and climate change
Although sprawl doesn’t generally top the list of cities’ climate mitigation priorities, it has massive implications for greenhouse gas emissions.
“When people think about climate action, they think about ending coal,” Binns said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s only half the battle. A tremendous opportunity is designing our cities in a way that people can move around them efficiently.”
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