Climate report urges local action

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/8/22

Summer fires and smoke and drought as well as shortened ski seasons in the winter are just a few of the examples of climate change's impact on Colorado, according to a climate change report just …

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Climate report urges local action

Posted

Summer fires and smoke and drought as well as shortened ski seasons in the winter are just a few of the examples of climate change's impact on Colorado, according to a climate change report just released.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their 2nd part of the Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability on Feb. 28. The report comes as a dire warning about the consequences of inaction, according to a press release from the IPCC. 

“(The report) is essentially a literature review of all the science on this topic,” said Dr. Lauren Gifford, an Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver. 

Locally, Gifford points to what she sees as a multi-decade drought hitting the Front Range. As well, the Marshall Fire, shifting ski seasons, the Boulder Floods in 2013, more frequent wildfires and the shortage of drinking water that can come from a changing climate.

Just a week earlier, the Westminster City Council nixed climate action from their strategic plan — a big mistake, according to Westminster City Councilor Obi Ezeadi.

“We have a moral responsibility to reduce pollution, clean up our air, and provide clean water,” Ezeadi said.

Both he and Gifford agreed that the evidence is apparent. Gifford studies the intersections of global climate change policy, conservation, markets and justice. She also assisted the 675 contributing authors, on top of the 270 regular authors from 67 different countries. 

The IPCC releases these reports studying the validity of science surrounding the topic of climate change. According to Gifford, only one thing changes when new reports are published. 

“What is new is the urgency,” she said. “The scientists are saying we have to act on climate more rapidly, more effectively.” 

The science, she said, is sound. She notes that scientists receive no compensation and the report takes years to complete. They are also peer-reviewed by scientists and governments.

“It's been through really, really extensive peer review, this is a legitimate report of the state of the climate,” she said. “This should be a real wake-up call that this isn't something that is going to happen down the road. It's something that needs to happen now,” she said. 

Global Issue, Local Impacts 

Gifford said the report shows how bad it would be if there is a 1.5 degrees Celsius rise in global temperature above pre-industrial levels.

To go over two degrees Celsius, she describes it as “catastrophic.” 

“Catastrophic reality for a lot of people, particularly people who are least equipped to respond to the climate change, so rising sea levels, increased fires,” she said.

Already, coastal communities endure the effects of 1.1 degrees Celsius warming and she said climate change impacts communities unevenly across the world. Gifford points to variability in weather patterns, more severe weather patterns and unpredictability as symptoms of the crisis.

To shift away from a fossil fuel economy, she urges federal, state and local governments to step in, especially the federal government helping municipal governments who may lose tax revenue. For example, areas that depend on tax revenues from oil and gas would see revenues drop if production slows. That tax base, she said, goes to things like roads, infrastructure, schools and ambulances.

To mitigate that effect, more funding needs to come from Uncle Sam according to the Just Transition Doctrine, a current term that discusses how to move to a green economy fairly. 

“We always think about the Just Transition as we get more people trained to be solar installers, but it also means protecting the communities that are going to lose money from that sort of exodus of oil and gas production,” she said. 

Role of Local Governments 

Gifford said that local municipalities play a huge role in combating climate change. 

Northglenn Mayor Meredith Leighty said their council keeps climate change at the forefront of their conversations while making decisions. 

“The best work happens at the municipal level,” she said. “We're able to impact change a little more directly and then if we can impact change together, then we're going to make a significant difference.” 

She said there have been significant conversations between council and city staff about making City hall a net-zero building — an energy-efficient building where the annual delivered energy is less than or equal to the on-site renewable exported energy. 

Sustainability stands as one of Northglenn's five-year strategic priority areas. Some goals in their action plan include reducing citywide water use by 30% by 2050, increasing participation in recycling programs and increasing funding in the city budget for sustainability initiatives.

Business perspective 

Mayor Jan Kulmann of Thornton — an oil and gas engineer as well — sees her city winning from addressing climate change from a business perspective.

“We all know that climate changes. I think we have lots of opportunities to address it in different ways,” she said. 

She points to increasing municipal electric vehicles, lighting structures to be less energy-intensive and changing yards to need less water. 

Thornton City Councilor Julia Marvin would like to see a sustainability manager for the City of Thornton who would oversee a holistic, equitable perspective of sustainability with a dedicated budget.  

She is also in favor of subsidies for residents to install solar power. 

“It's a huge cost for people and so how could we be helping with some of those costs, so that it's a solution for people that is more feasible,” she said.

Westminster plan

Westminster completed a Sustainability Plan in 2021 with ambitious goals such as having 100% renewable electricity, 100% of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park, 100% electric vehicles and 100% energy-efficient, healthy homes.

These goals do not have a deadline, however.

“We actually have a climate action plan, so let's actually start working on it and reporting out progress to Council,” Ezeadi said. 

He would like to see more water conservation, science-based pollution reduction targets, more bike lanes, continuous insulation in buildings and light distribution to use less energy.

“Systemic racism determines who benefits and who suffers from human activities that produce harmful gases warming the earth and degrading our environment, so let's start tracking data annually to gauge pollution impacts on our minority populations that live in the south of the city,” he said. 

Advice to Councilors 

Max Boykoff, a Professor & Chair, Department of Environmental Studies at CU Boulder and a contributing author of the third installment of the IPCC report, gave power to local governments. 

“I think the good news is that municipal governments play an important role and there are many opportunities in which municipal governments can take action in the face of these challenges,” he said. “Every aspect of what we do as local communities matters.” 

Boykoff offered specific policies municipal governments across the Front Range — and across the country — can implement to address climate change. 

“Helping to incentivize people getting out of their personal automobiles, and into this public transportation is great,” he said.

Building public transportations systems around the Front Range that connects folks, he thinks, should be a climate priority of government officials.

He also recommended policies to help households switch over to heat pumps, commitments to tree planting and a carbon tax to help fund environmental initiatives and steer folks away from carbon. 

Avoiding Climate Burnout 

Both Gifford and Boykoff said that feeling overwhelmed with climate issues and emotional burnout is a very real phenomenon happening to citizens across the world. They offered ways to avoid it. 

“Take time to like do things fun just for you,” Gifford said. “Do something that does not make you think about COVID and climate change and everything else horrible in the world right now.”

“I'm glad that mental health is being addressed in the face of a changing climate, especially with young people that are born into a world where this has been a challenge since they've really come of consciousness,” Boykoff said. 

He said talking with peers, a therapist and creatively expressing oneself can help.

“Climate grief is real,” he said. “So trying to tough it out is not good advice. Rather, confronting it for what it is and getting seeking out help is what one needs to do.”

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