City mayors from around the world will arrive in San Francisco Wednesday for a UN conference on making cities green. As reported in the SF Chronicle: San Francisco Hosts U.N. Conference / Green agenda for world's urban mayors.
The U.N. conference -- an annual event in its third decade, but the first in the United States -- comes 60 years after the city served as the setting for the signing of the charter that created the international body.
This time, the issues at hand are quite different. The theme of the conference is "green cities,'' and the mayors will hammer out an accord on ways to improve energy use, recycling, environmental health, urban design, transportation, metropolitan parks and water quality and supply.
World Environment Day, a five-day conference that begins Wednesday, will also spotlight initiatives in the Bay Area that conserve resources and cut pollution at the local level. And it will give residents a chance to find out what they can do.
Many in the international community "believe the United States has forgotten its global role when it comes to the environment,'' said (Jared) Blumenfeld, who worked on projects for the Cape Cod-based International Fund for Animal Welfare before accepting the city job in 2001.
"Whenever I go anywhere, recently to Shanghai, people come up and say, 'It's so sad the U.S. isn't doing anything on the environment. It used to be such a leader.' My response is that U.S. cities and states are doing a huge amount when it comes to environmental protection, but that's not what anyone is hearing,'' he said.
The United Nations, he said, likes "the work we've done in the Bay Area on the environment. We have a large number of community groups and nonprofits, and the U.N. likes the fact that we're involved with urban density and smart growth issues, pesticide reduction, solar power and green building.''
If the national government is too ossified and ideological to plan for change, then thank goodness smaller entities at the state and local levels press forward. The Dove is reading Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel; Diamond discusses the phenomenon of individual societies rejecting technologies or innovations that would have helped them progress or dominate. Japan rejected the gun in the 17th century, after developing the best firearms in the world. Later China rejected various innovations, including ship building, and turned away from the world. Because it had a strong, unified central government, the capacity to build ships was lost. No province of China could rebel and adapt the innovation once the central government quashed it. Now our own irrational ideologues reject progress in energy efficiency and alternative energy (not to mention certain life sciences, i.e. stem cell research); but at least our federal system, and perhaps the economic power of California, allow us to innovate anyway.