Host Steve Curwood talks to San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom about that city's hosting of mayors from around the globe to celebrate World Environment Day.
CURWOOD: For the first time in history, more people on the planet live in cities than anywhere else. So it's appropriate that World Environment Day, which was established by the United Nations in 1972, should bring together mayors of cities from around the world. At the beginning of June, these mayors will gather to sign a group of accords that will, in their words, help build a sustainable, dynamic and equitable future for citizens around the world. With me now is Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, which is hosting this five-day event... the first American city to ever do so. So why was San Francisco chosen to host World Environment Day this year?
NEWSOM: Well, I'd like to think it's because we are in every way, shape and form ahead of the curve in terms of environmental initiatives. That being said I imagine it has as much or more to do with the fact that we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the signing and founding of the U.N. which was done of course, here in San Francisco. So it's a wonderful opportunity to talk about best practices and how it relates to the environment but also it's a wonderful celebration of the founding of the U.N.
CURWOOD: What do you expect to come out of this?
Mayor Newsom announces San Francisco's selection as host of United Nations World Environment Day in 2005. (Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Department of the Environment)
NEWSOM: Well I think the most significant thing is the signing of these urban environmental accords and the feedback we've gotten from mayors and their staffs that we've sent these accords to is overwhelming with enthusiasm. And it just establishes a new precedent where we can either sit back and wait for our respective governments to get aggressive and recognize the challenges of global warming and the real challenges of global warming - the challenges in the environment generally - or we can actually be proactive and lead by example.
CURWOOD: For example?
NEWSOM: Well, I'd like to see cities really focus on their recycling efforts. San Francisco has 63 percent recycling rate, our goal is to get up to 75 percent in just a few years. I think renewable energies is the opportunity for sustainable economies. Uh, we talk about an energy policy in this country. Well, it's all talk. It's all rhetoric. The reality is we don't really have one and I think it's incumbent upon cities to lead by examples ‘cause I'm not – as mayor, I don't want to wait 20, 30 years until these things evolve. We've got to take action and we've got to fight against the status quo.
CURWOOD: To what extent do mayors have a bigger stake in environmental issues than other politicians?
NEWSOM: Well, I think it's a direct stake. Again, I mean, you look at San Francisco – it enjoys some of the most scenic beauty of any major city in the world, and I go down to Los Angeles, I see smog everywhere and there's something fundamental about that and immediately, the mayor of Los Angeles is burdened with that reality. So I think again, you can talk globally, but you've got to proverbially act locally and what's at stake is actually making things different – making things better. And increasingly, mayors around the world have the power to do that.
CURWOOD: Who, who is coming here? I understand you have the mayor of Kabul in Afghanistan, mayors in Africa, South America – these are very different places then the United States.
NEWSOM: Yeah, it's absolutely incredible. We have, you know, from Belarus, from Cambodia, from India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, I mean all over the map literally and figuratively, and of course mayors from across the United States of America. And that's what so dynamic and so extraordinary about this is the different perspectives, the different challenges. Where water might be the dominant issue for example, in a third world country – the opportunity for that mayor to learn about what we're doing for example with one of the cleanest water systems in the world – our Hitetchi water system in San Francisco. But to also learn from the mayor of Manila about what they're doing on issues of energy and open space and we can take that back here in our respective cities. So this is a pretty incredible opportunity, just to meet, greet, but also to represent our city's best and our city's worst in terms of the challenges we have.
CURWOOD: We're just about out of time but let me ask you this before you go: when you invite the world's mayors to a city, it's quite a do. And I'm sure you've been at this for a while. What have you already learned?
NEWSOM: I've just been amazed by the responsiveness of mayors and how eager and enthusiastic they are and that's very humbling. And very encouraging.
CURWOOD: Gavin Newsom is Mayor of San Francisco and host of this year's World Environment Day in June and, by the way, Living on Earth will be broadcasting from there in cooperation with member station KQED. And if you'd like to be involved, details are on our web site, livingonearth.org. Mayor Newsom, thanks so much for taking this time with me today.
NEWSOM: Thank you for having me on.