With eyes on the presidency, Mayor Pete seeks a ‘generational alliance’ to tackle climate change

mayor pete

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is riding a wave of media attention as he campaigns to be the next United States president. He’s making the future of America a focal point of his campaign — including a commitment to address climate change.

When Mayor Pete spoke at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire, on April 5, he highlighted climate change as a key concern for his generation.

“Speaking to you as a mayor who found myself compelled to open the emergency operations center of my city twice in two years for floods that we were told were 500-year to 1,000-year floods — happening back-to-back — don’t tell me climate is not a security issue,” Buttigieg said.

Mayor Buttigieg didn’t mention the Green New Deal in New Hampshire, but at a rally in Boston in early April, he said he supports the plan to decarbonize the US economy and fund clean energy jobs. He compared the ambitious plan to the 1960s effort to land a spacecraft on the moon.

Related: The Green New Deal doesn’t include carbon pricing. Some say that’s a big mistake.

“In the same way that President Kennedy hadn’t mastered all the rocket trajectories in 1960, when he wanted us to get to the moon by 1970, I still think we commit to [solving climate change] now, precisely because we’re not sure how to get there,” he said. “But we’ve got to tie ourselves to that goal and then do everything we can as a country to get there, because I simply don’t believe we can afford to wait.”

President Kennedy was the nation’s youngest president at 43 years old. Mayor Buttigieg, at just 37, says his age makes him uniquely qualified to take on the issue of climate change as president. “If this generation doesn’t step up, we’re in trouble,” he said. “This is, after all, the generation that’s going to be on the business end of climate change for as long as we live.”

Related: After a half-century, a Rust Belt town looks to restore its ‘temples’

In 2017, Buttigieg joined the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, a group of hundreds of mayors who have pledged to work in their cities to meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals of the Paris climate agreement. And when President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency scrubbed climate change data from its website in 2017, South Bend joined other cities in archiving the agency’s data on its own website.

Buttigieg has made redevelopment and urban livability key priorities for his city. His Smart Streets program, which widened sidewalks and added new bike lanes and urban trees, has been credited with revitalizing South Bend’s downtown. He says the greening of South Bend helped attract over $90 million in private investment.

Buttigieg likes to say his presidential campaign is not just about the next four years, but the next 40. 

“I see in the audiences that I speak to across the country, the makings of a generational alliance,” he said. “Not generational conflict; not what was experienced in the ‘60s, of young people versus their parents; but an alliance around the idea that we ought to have a better future and that everybody cares about that future, no matter your age.”

This article is based on a report that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.

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