One day last month in this normally sun-starved corner of the country, when the temperature reached into the low 60s, residents donned shorts and acted as if summer had come early.
That bothered Mayor Greg Nickels -- not the shorts, but the warm weather.
The temperature hit the 60s again this month, and with mountain snowpacks alarmingly low and scientists already predicting drought this summer, Nickels said he feared “the profound changes” associated with global warming had reached home.
Last week, on the day the Kyoto Protocol went into effect, Nickels announced he would lead a campaign to get U.S. cities to adopt its terms, beginning with Seattle. He said his goal was to recruit 140 cities to match the 140 countries that signed the treaty. The mayors of 10 cities, including Los Angeles; Santa Monica; Portland, Ore.; Minneapolis; and Oakland, have signed on.
The Kyoto Protocol, the first major international effort to reduce the industrial emissions that many scientists believe are creating a warmer climate, went into effect without the support of the world’s biggest polluter. The United States, which produces about one-fourth of the world’s heat-trapping exhaust, initially signed the treaty in 1997 but withdrew in 2001.
“I’m deeply disappointed that the U.S. is not part of the treaty,” said Nickels, a Democrat. But, he said, he did not see his campaign as a partisan effort by Democrats to thumb their noses at the Republican Bush administration.
“We want to show that a city -- and I hope it turns out to be many cities -- can act to meet the intent and spirit of the Kyoto Protocol,” Nickels said. The goal would be to “inspire our federal government to take the action it should have done years ago.”
Sarah Jaynes, a Seattle resident and board member of the nonpartisan King County Conservation Voters -- which works to elect “environmentally responsible candidates” to office -- said she believed Nickels was genuinely concerned about global warming but also was being an astute politician.
Nickels, a first-term mayor, is running for reelection later this year.
“Seattle voters are extraordinarily concerned about environmental protection, and Mayor Nickels wants to demonstrate a strong environmental ethic,” Jaynes said. “This is one way he can do it. As a politician, it can only help him.”
Nickels said he planned to introduce a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in June to set up the coalition, which had been dubbed “the Green Team.” The details still are being worked out but, in essence, cities wanting to join the team must agree to concrete steps that would lower so-called greenhouse gas emissions.
“We can’t wait for this vacuum of leadership to fill,” said Peter Clavelle, the mayor of Burlington, Vt., who has joined Nickels’ Green Team.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said it was imperative that cities take the lead on the issue, and he hoped county and state governments would follow suit. The world must “reverse the trend toward global warming,” Anderson said. “If we do not, the consequences will be devastating.”
Seattle adopted the Kyoto Protocol four years ago.
Now that it’s in effect, Nickels said he would work to pass a “clean-car” bill that would require more stringent emission standards for cars sold in Washington, similar to a law adopted in California. He directed city departments to reduce paper use 30% by 2006, and said sound environmental policies would be a consideration in deciding which neighborhood programs to fund.
Nickels said he was worried about the warm temperatures and relatively dry weather throughout the Pacific Northwest this winter.
In a typical February, Seattle would get more than 4 inches of rainfall. So far, there has been less than an inch, a continuation of a drier-than-usual January.
Most ski resorts in Washington and Idaho have remained closed because of a lack of snow. On Jan. 20, nearly 80 record-high temperatures were set in mountains throughout Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
Of most concern to Nickels is the snowpack in the Cascade Mountains, which provides water for Seattle and most of western Washington. Meteorologists say the snowpack is less than one-third of its usual mass this time of year, and is lower than it’s been in nearly three decades.
Nickels said it was still possible that heavy snow in the next two months could make up the shortfall.
But according to the National Weather Service’s long-term forecast for the Northwest, February, March and April will see mostly above-average temperatures and below-average rain and snow.