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White: Join us in efforts to deal with a changing climate

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Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 2:57 PM
Dick White, Mayor of Durango

Climate change is real. In 2017, weather-related disasters in the United States alone cost more than $300 billion, part of a multi-decade trend in which loaded climate dice yield increasingly numerous dreadful events.

Droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods: none respect political dogma.

Climate change mostly results from human activity that increases heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. I learned the basic physics of this phenomenon in graduate school 50 years ago, and taught it in elementary astronomy for decades. It is no more a matter of belief than the fall of a stone released from the swinging bridge over the Animas River.

The time for addressing climate change is now. It has taken decades to build the impacts and it will take decades more to mitigate and adapt to them. Every year of delay in comprehensive action sentences us, our children – and theirs – to worsening impacts.

Unfortunately, the United States now officially stands alone in climate denial, withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Accord that seeks to foster mitigation globally. Leadership, therefore, devolves to state and local governments.

Statewide, the new Compact of Colorado Communities has formed to facilitate local government action.

Next week, in collaboration with the Governor’s office, the Compact will host the first Colorado Communities Symposium, gathering state and local leaders to accelerate climate preparedness and renewable energy development.

The challenge is enormous. Economies run on energy and for 200 years the cheapest, most accessible energy sources have been fossil fuels – essentially sunlight stored for millions of years that we are consuming in decades. Continuing to expand the economy using fossil fuels means accelerating climate change, with impacts that in the long term will overwhelm economic gains. We cannot outrun or outsmart Mother Nature. This reality demands an unprecedented shift toward energy conservation and renewable energy. Such a massive transformation will not happen overnight; you cannot turn an aircraft carrier in a city block.

Transforming the economy requires efforts at all levels of society; to turn the climate change “carrier” needs all hands on deck. Local government has a role, but it also will take engagement of residents, businesses, non-profits and our electric co-op.

In October, engaged citizens delivered to the Durango City Council a petition bearing nearly 1,000 names appealing for a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy for the community by 2050, with 80 percent local generation by 2030. At our annual meeting with the La Plata Electric Association board, the City Council shared this information and appealed for cooperative efforts. The context for this discussion is the city’s franchise agreement that runs until 2032, and LPEA’s contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission that runs until 2050, and severely limits local renewables apart from “behind the meter” facilities.

We are not alone in this dilemma. Many other compact members also receive power from rural co-ops that are Tri-State members. Consequently, the compact has a utilities working group that is exploring avenues for collaborative efforts to advance our collective climate goals. This subject is an agenda item for the upcoming Colorado Communities Symposium.

In the last three months, City Council has taken several policy initiatives. First, we passed the resolution to become one of the founding members of the Compact of Colorado Communities. Second, we adopted the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code, to be effective on October 1, 2018, so that new residential and commercial construction will meet a higher efficiency standard, resulting in ongoing energy and cost savings. Finally, we budgeted 2018 funding for a study on how Durango can grow renewable energy generation from city facilities and for updating the 10-year old La Plata County greenhouse gas emissions inventory as a basis for assessing the community’s future progress.

In addition, our sustainability coordinator will continue to document the city’s increasing conformance with the STAR Community sustainability rating criteria, many of which are climate-related.

Ongoing climate-related city programs involve multiple efforts embodied in the city’s internal Sustainability Action Plan (http://bit.ly/2Eb3gT5). Additional possibilities for the future include accommodating electric and autonomous vehicles, weatherizing older buildings and expanding waste management to include composting of organic materials.

Colorado, with a voting population nearly equally divided among Independents, Republicans and Democrats, has proven itself adept at political compromise. No issue calls more strongly for such an approach than climate change.

The city of Durango seeks to be a leader in these efforts, but we need engagement from everyone in the community across the political spectrum to navigate the turbulent waters of a changing climate, and a changing economy.

Please get on board.

Dick White is the mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of city council. Reach him at DickWhite@DurangoGov.org.

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