Early this year, Mayor John Cooper appointed 48 Nashville community members to his Sustainability Advisory Committee to address climate change and alternative energy challenges for our city. I am honored to be one of those appointees.
Our committee is co-chaired by Vanderbilt University Vice Chancellor for Administration Eric Kopstain and Vanderbilt Law School lecturer Linda Breggin, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C., and project director for the Nashville Food Waste Initiative.
The committee is divided into six subcommittees are mobility, energy, waste reduction, green buildings, natural resources and climate adaptation and resilience. Each subcommittee addresses a component of the city’s commitment to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy with a common goal of developing a plan to reduce Nashville’s carbon footprint.
My friend Gregor Robertson is a Global Covenant of Mayors ambassador. While mayor of Vancouver, Gregor helped transition the Canadian city into one of the greenest cities in the world, addressing everything from transportation to food systems and from waste management to building codes. The global alliance is fortunate to have Gregor working to accelerate climate action in cities across the globe.
I am on the mobility subcommittee, which has been meeting virtually since mid-March when the COVID-19 protocols were put in place.
Our eight-person mobility subcommittee includes representatives from Vanderbilt and Tennessee State universities, CSX, Chamber of Commerce, Transit Now, Walk Bike Nashville, Nashville Civic Design Center and Urban Land Institute. While diverse in backgrounds and the organizations we represent, we all have the same goal — find sustainable ways to improve mobility and make Nashville a more livable city for all of us.
For many people, “mobility” means cars, and maybe, public transit. Mobility is much more. It’s walking, biking and transit. It’s also about connectivity and how we get to work, school, the grocery store, the doctor or wherever we need to go. Mobility includes transit corridors, greenways networks, bike paths, sidewalks and safe intersections and crosswalks.
We know transportation is the top contributor to greenhouse gases in our city, contributing 49% of our community greenhouse gas emissions. We also know that car pollution has a negative impact on our health (lung and heart diseases) and puts us at a disadvantage to viruses. To meet Nashville’s climate action goals, we must dramatically reduce our car trips.
With most people working from home during COVID-19, greenhouse gas emissions have plummeted, seeing the biggest drop since WWII. A six percent drop is expected for 2020. The last time our emissions fell was in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008. As our city opens back up, workers head to the office, and tourists return, greenhouse gas emissions from cars will dramatically increase.
For now, Nashvillians of all ages are in the streets and on the greenways, walking and riding bikes for exercise and fresh air. For many, it has been their introduction to cycling and the greenways. I hope they will continue to use these alternative modes of transportation and connections to places when they are no longer working from home.
Our Mobility Committee has heard from a variety of outside experts including Dr. Beverly Wright who runs the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and gave an amazing overview about how systemic racism impacts environmental justice.
We have put together a thoughtful and comprehensive list of recommendations for how Nashville can meet its climate goals. Our recommendations promote alternative transportation modes — walking and biking — as well as transit and reducing vehicle friendly policy decisions.
The Mayor’s Office will compile recommendations from all six subcommittees into a Climate Action Plan that will be shared with Nashvillians. This plan will set our path for a healthy, resilient city of the future.