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Editorial: Pittsburgh shows leadership in climate of change

November 9, 2018

When you live next to a river, you are sensitive to changes in water levels.

Maybe that is why Pittsburgh is taking a stab at addressing climate change.

On Sunday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stood with Steel City Mayor Bill Peduto to announce Pittsburgh as a $2.5 million winner of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, along with Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.

It is not surprising that a city that invested so much in rebuilding and reinventing itself would be part of something that seeks to redefine what it means to be a modern city in a changing world.

Pittsburgh began its trek away from the gritty, grungy past after World War II with its first Renaissance. It continued with Renaissance II for almost 20 years.

Bloomberg noted the Pittsburgh of the past.

“What a change,” he said, remembering a long ago visit when the air was so choked with smog, it was hard to see across the street.

Today’s Pittsburgh is modeled around health care more than manufacturing. Today’s Pittsburgh is a skyline that sparkles in the bright sun where it touches three rivers, the glass of PPG Place and the arches and rivets of golden steel bridges.

But what Pittsburgh has learned in its decades of rebirth is that survival and growth aren’t about what your city was like yesterday or what it does today.

The focus always has to be downstream. What will your city be tomorrow?

Peduto says the goal is about energy. It’s about a city that runs entirely on renewable energy -- at least as far as Pittsburgh’s own operations are concerned. It’s about dropping how much energy is used and changing the energy used for transportation.

It’s almost impossible to think of the award or the projections without thinking of Pittsburgh’s place on a world stage last year when President Trump invoked it while pulling out of the Paris climate accord.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said.

Peduto responded with an executive order doubling down on his commitment to slashing the city’s carbon footprint.

But this cannot be about Democrats and Republicans or politics. It can’t be about whether Bloomberg’s party change two weeks ago presages a 2020 presidential run. It can’t be about winners and losers.

If the environment is a tug of war, there are no winners.

Instead, let’s look at what Pittsburgh has done and what Pittsburgh can do moving forward.

“We have a long way to go, but we’ve shown them how a city that had basically destroyed its environment can come back and succeed economically,” Peduto said Sunday.

It’s a challenge the city has to rise to meet because, for decades, it has lived in a climate of change.

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