How Green is Your City?

Maybe concrete and skyscraper filled cities are not the first things that come to mind when you think of "the environment," but in the ongoing discussion about global warming, cities are a hot topic. In line with this trend, Earth Day Network, the education and activist organization created by the original Earth Day founders, just released their Urban Environment Report. The report rates the environmental performance of 72 of the U.S.'s most populous cities. How did your city do? You might be surprised.

To get to the heart of what makes a city green, EDN culled together data from leading environmental agencies and organizations, using no less than 200 indicators in eight major categories. These categories include toxics and waste, air quality, drinking water, and quality of life.

What really sets this report apart from other city rating lists is the addition of their original Vulnerable Populations Index (VPI), which takes the least privileged classes into consideration. This group includes people who are homeless, low income, very old or very young, obese, disabled, or lack health insurance. The logic here is that disadvantaged groups are generally those that occupy the most environmentally degraded areas in any city and have the least access to education and health care. The more vulnerable people in a given city, the more dramatic an impact environmental problems have and the lower the overall performance rating.

Earth Day Network intends for the Urban Environment Report to be used for advocating environmentally progressive programs. It may also help the growing number of mayors who have publicly pledged to reduce their cities' ecological footprints. To date, 358 U.S. mayors, governing 55 million citizens have pledged to adopt the international Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the fact that the federal government declined to sign the accord, these mayors have committed to achieving what would be the target for the U.S., which is to reduce emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by the year 2012. Some of the largest of these cities have also signed onto the Clinton Climate Initiative's Urban Accord to reduce greenhouse gases and support sustainable development.

The cities governed by these mayors are all over the Urban Environment Report's rankings, even occupying the lowest, dirtiest spots. This is expected since the majority of the data that EDN used to create the report was current in 2004 and 2005. For those mayors who are making good on their pledges, the report may become an excellent tool for prioritizing the issues their cities face and for promoting their programs. It also enables citizens to hold mayors accountable, and make sure they're not full of (what else?) hot air.

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