Tom Kelly is tall, graying, and fit from riding his bicycle most everywhere. Kelly used to work as a health investigator, trying to puzzle out environmental causes of ailments such as asthma and autism. In his searches, he read everything he could get his hands on about all manner of environmental problems, and one overarching theme kept cropping up. Global warming. Kelly became convinced (as many others have) that carbon dioxide emissions constitute the single greatest threat to human civilization and the earth it depends on.
In the run-up to the November 2004 election, Kelly sensed a great deal of concern and energy building in the public, a renewed willingness to engage in the political process and tackle daunting problems like this one. Then the election was held and a massive deflation followed. Discouragement was rampant. Kelly wondered if he could find something that would show people that they can make a difference as individuals, especially now that it was clear that the federal government was a lost cause for at least the next four years.
In January, Kelly and his wife, Jane, with help from the owner of the company Tom had worked for, launched Kyoto USA. It is staffed wholly by volunteers. The idea is to persuade cities, counties, universities, businesses -- any institution, large or small -- to pledge to meet the goals set by the Kyoto protocol that the US under George Bush walked away from.
As a first step, Kelly approached the city council in his home town of Berkeley, which he figured ought to be sympathetic. He guessed right. The council adopted a Kyoto resolution.
The city had already embarked on a campaign to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide, but now it had a tangible target. Experts analyzed nearly all aspects of city operations that contribute to emissions of CO2, including burning of vehicle fuels, use of electricity for all purposes, and burning of natural gas primarily for heating buildings. They then set out to put conservation programs into effect.
Principal among these was a move toward vehicles powered by electricity, natural gas, and biodiesel fuel. They converted all the city's diesel vehicles to biodiesel and replaced 15 conventional automobiles with a half-dozen hybrids that are used by city employees during the week and available for use by Car Share members on weekends.
All city employees receive free bus passes and discounts on BART, the region's commuter rail system, which cuts down on traffic. Buildings were retrofitted with energy-saving devices. Stoplights were all converted to light-emitting diodes that use a tenth the electricity of conventional bulbs.
In all, carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle fuels dropped by 48 percent, and emissions from natural gas dropped by 16 percent. Emissions attributed to electricity rose slightly -- by 5 percent.
All together, by the fall of 2005, the city's CO2 emissions had fallen by 14 percent, double the target set by the Kyoto protocol, which calls for a 7 percent reduction by 2010.
And the cost? The city is actually saving its taxpayers around $370,000 a year as it reduces its carbon emissions by an estimated 1,200 tons.
More reductions are in the works as well and will be achieved, in part, by tightening restrictions on construction and renovation of residential, commercial, and government buildings and increasing the efficiency of electricity powered devices.
Tom Kelly waxes enthusiastic about the process as much as the results. "This cuts across all ideologies -- or is outside ideology," he says. "We were at a planning meeting in Alameda last night, and everyone was immediately enthusiastic. When they started listing names of people to approach not one name was omitted. Everybody can get behind this."
As of late 2005, Kelly reports that there are 195 cities and 14 states that have signed on to Kyoto's goals, with more to come -- and the results of their investments in alternative technologies and energy efficiency have been better than predicted. Seattle is a major player, he reports, and notes a New York Times story to the effect that the city has spent $28 million replacing its stop lights for drivers and pedestrians, which will save $6 or $7 million per year forever.
To reach Tom Kelly, visit www.kyotousa.org.
To find out more about Seattle's exciting programs visit http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/mayor/climate/.
For more information or an interview about Berkeley's experience, phone Cisco DeVries, chief of staff in the mayor's office (510) 282-4123 or visit www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/mayor.