German Mayor Jabs Chicago Think Tank For Offering To Drive Him To Airport After Climate Talk

When it came time for Tübingen Mayor Boris Palmer to return to Germany Friday after speaking at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities, he bought a $5 ticket to the Blue Line, an electric train that zips up the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway to O'Hare Airport.
"And then I had to turn down the very, very polite offer of the organizers of this conference to take me to O’Hare Airport with a car, with a driver, and they warned me that it would take an hour longer because there might be traffic congestion," Palmer said. "But still I don’t get refunded the $5 for the ticket, but they would pay for the car and the driver."
The Forum's organizer, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, immediately offered to reimburse Palmer. "No, you don’t have to take care about the $5, it’s a story," he said: the point isn't the cost, it's the thinking.
"I don’t want to be rude to our host, but I want to tell you that story because it’s so interesting," he said. "My point is that a carbon tax won’t change anything at all as long as it’s self evident that a mayor needs a car and a driver to get around, and public transport is not available for him because that’s below his standard."
Evan Fazio, spokesman for the Council, said, "Chicago has a first-class public transportation system, and we very much welcome when speakers and other guests of the Council desire to make use of the system.”
At the Forum's closing lunch on Friday, the Europeans raised the uncomfortable subject of behaviors that have to change for humans to respond effectively to climate change. The first to do so was Connie Hedagaard, former European Commissioner for Climate Action and the host in 2009 of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen.
"There is one aspect that national governments are really afraid of talking about and that is behavior," Hedagaard said. "I would not like to live in a society where this huge transformation had to be done only through politics. I mean we have to transform politics, obviously, but it also has to come from citizens who see the attractiveness in doing things differently."
That's where cities can be more effective, Hedagaard said, by serving as "creative spaces" to demonstrate the benefits of cleaner air, of renewable energy, of public transportation, so people don't think of a low-carbon society as a collection of restrictions, but as a positive vision.
"And I think there the cities have a huge potential because they are close to the citizens in communicating and showing these examples."
In Tübingen, Palmer launched a campaign, Tübingen Macht Blau, to enlist its citizens in personal actions they can take to reduce their impact on the climate. Palmer promotes the campaign, Tübingen Goes Blue, by wearing a blue suit.
In the last decade Tübingen has reduced its carbon footprint 22 percent, increased ridership on public transportation 25 percent, shifted to 50 percent renewable energy—Palmer vows it will be 100 percent in another decade—and increased jobs 20 percent, Palmer said.
"We have job growth, we have zero debt in the city, we have doubled tax revenues for the city, and we have seen a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. And that is only possible only if you take a holistic approach, I believe, and you need strong leadership to do it."
In an article on these accomplishments, Der Speigel called Palmer an "overachiever with a humility deficit."
Palmer favors a carbon tax, as does Hedagaard, as does most everyone working on the climate problem, because it could rapidly swing investment and market momentum onto the side of a cleaner economy. But a carbon tax alone won't be enough, Palmer said, unless people also change their behaviors. And leaders should lead.
“And so what did I do? The first day in office I said get rid of that mayor’s car and we’ll find another job for the driver because I’m going to use my bicycle in the city. It’s faster, it’s cleaner, it’s a better way of life, and since we have clean air I won’t be polluting. So you have to change your mindset in order to get forward with these issues. It’s not only about taxes and money."

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