Pelosi: Urban Environmental Accords a 'Blueprint for Healthy Future for Our Children'
Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered the following address at the United Nations World Environment Day Closing Ceremonies yesterday afternoon in San Francisco. She joined mayors from around the world to celebrate the signing of the Urban Environmental Accords, an international treaty that aims to solve environmental challenges through common-sense solutions. Below are Pelosi's remarks:
"Thank you, Director Klaus Topfer. We are fortunate indeed that your pioneering efforts in Germany are now benefiting the world.
"Thank you, Mayor Newsom, for making the greening of San Francisco a cornerstone of your administration, and for your unwavering commitment to making San Francisco a livable community and a model for the world's cities.
"Thank you, Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, for your leadership in bringing U.N. World Environment Day to San Francisco.
"Thank you, distinguished mayors, for participating in these historic accords. I have a special appreciation for mayors and the special relationship you have with your constituents. My father was the mayor of Baltimore, Maryland for 12 years, beginning when I was seven years old. Later, my brother was mayor as well. Watching them work, I came to understand and respect the impact that mayors have on the people and communities you serve.
"I know I speak for all San Franciscans when I say we are honored by your presence. It is fitting that you chose to sign the Urban Environmental Accords here in San Francisco because of our values and because of our history. Northern California is the cradle of America's environmental movement. For us in California, the environment is not an issue; it is a value, it is an ethic, which I know you share.
"John Muir, one of America's foremost naturalists and the father of our national park systems, made his home here. America's national commitment to clean air was launched in California. And California was the incubator of the modern renewable energy industry. Northern California is and will always be free of offshore oil drilling.
"Thanks to State Senator John Burton, a San Franciscan, California recently adopted tough limits on greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, and other states in the U.S. are beginning to follow suit.
"It is fitting that you meet here because of our history. Sixty years ago this month, at the War Memorial Veterans Building just across the street, representatives of countries around the world gathered to found the United Nations - an institution that gave hope for enduring peace, economic stability, protection of our environment and respect for the rights of the world's people.
"I know that future generations will celebrate the signing of these Accords as a new chapter in which the world's cities took on a greater responsibility for stewardship of the world's environment.
"When our prehistoric ancestors evolved from hunter-gatherers to farmers to city dwellers, they moved from adapting to their environment to controlling and changing their environment. Yet while they were making progress, they often lost sight of protecting the environment.
"In the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy admonished, 'When you besiege a city... you must not destroy its trees.' This was good advice then, and it's good advice now.
"Today, as you know, cities have a huge impact on the global environment. The majority of the world's people now live in cities. Around the world, 1 million people move into cities each week.
"Look around you. The cities governed by the mayors here today have a combined population of more than 200 million. That means that the commitments you are adopting today will impact one in every 30 people in the world.
"You have tremendous power. And with that power comes tremendous opportunity, and tremendous responsibility. In places where national governments either cannot or will not act in a way that makes progress and protects our environment - mayors must lead.
"Albert Einstein once said: 'We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.'
"The poet Shelley had the answer when he wrote, 'The greatest force for moral good is imagination.' Imagination enables us to think in new and creative ways. Imagination is what allows us to challenge the status quo.
"Know thy power. Your power and your creativity are needed now more than ever, and that is why the accords you are signing today are so significant. They are a blueprint for a healthy future for our children.
"In studying the balance of nature, children learn that everything in nature is connected. Of the seven categories in which you have committed to take action, the one that clearly unites them all is environmental health.
"Whether we are discussing clean energy, waste reduction, mass transit, urban design, urban nature, or clean water - each of these influences environmental health, especially for our children. We all know that children in the early stages of development are significantly affected by the quality of the environment in which they live. When it comes to toxic pollutants, children are much more sensitive.
"Around the world, children die every day because of contaminated drinking water that spreads disease. Even in America, the debate continues over arsenic, mercury, and sewage in our water supply.
"Environmental health is closely linked to the issue of environmental justice. Environmental justice insists that all people, regardless of their ethnicity or income, have the right to a clean and healthy environment. Ethnic minorities and the poor too often carry a heavier burden of exposure to pollution than the affluent. In the U.S., they are more likely to live near landfills, waste incinerators, power plants, petrochemical plants, and other sources of pollution.
"No one should have to live with more pollution because they are from a minority group, or because they are poor, especially if they are children. When we see an environmental threat to public health, we have a moral responsibility to eliminate it. It is a matter of fairness - breathing clean air and drinking clean water is a right, not a privilege. It is a matter of fairness that polluters pay for the damage they do, not children paying with their health.
"Here in the United States, many of us view the right to a clean environment as a civil right, enforceable under federal civil rights laws. Former President Clinton issued an executive order directing each agency of the federal government to 'make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing...disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.'
"The current Administration is not sympathetic, but we are continuing that fight.
"I know that as mayors and city officials, you are grappling with many environmental challenges on a day-to-day basis. That makes signing even more remarkable.
"As Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives, I acknowledge your leadership and commitment and extend congratulations from my congressional colleagues on the historic occasion of your signing these Accords. What you are doing here today is taking a different approach - a united approach - on the stewardship of the environment.
"Mayor Newsom, I wish we could adopt this agenda on the national level in our own country.
"Honored guests, the recognition you will receive for the work you do goes far beyond of stars it will earn your cities. The real reward will be the healthier lives and healthier communities you build for your children and grandchildren.
"These are more than public policy issues - they are profoundly moral issues. They speak to the very fabric of life itself - connecting our communities and binding us together - neighbor to neighbor, nation to nation, generation to generation.
"Prophet Isaiah said: 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.' Thank you for your acts of worship by respecting our beautiful environment, and every person on the planet.
"Thank you and congratulations for your achievement here today."