You can’t make much impact on carbon emissions in your town simply by making minor energy upgrades to municipal buildings. And thinking outside the box can be difficult.
Laws & zoning, overlapping jurisdiction, unions, and just plain old tradition create a lot of “no”.
But business as usual is what got us global warming. Below, I describe small Davids who have brought Goliath to his knees with resources the size of a slingshot. I’ve drawn examples from a large number of US towns. Keep in mind that we can do it better — they don’t have federal support (thanks Trump!) or a carbon tax funding.
Dawson Creek, BC (pop 12,000) changed its building-code bylaws to require every new house to be built “solar ready”.
South Daytona, Florida (pop 12,000) created a grey-water irrigation system and run it as a utility. Property owners pay for the service (including connection fees) just as they would a water utility.
Kearney, Nebraska (pop 30,787) has 18 citizen boards and commissions, which require a lot of photocopies. IT trained people to use online collaboration tools and cut paper usage (the “paperless office”), also saving a substantial amount on paper and ink.
Naperville, IL (pop 150,000) Cities are hit each summer with a double whammy: downtown you get a “heat island effect” which raises the outdoor temperature 1-2 C. Then as climate change makes it hotter, everyone turns up their refrigerated air, drastically increasing energy use.
Naperville looked at climate temperature predictions and started planting trees which will mature 20-50 years from now.
I used to laugh at the term “urban forester” but planting trees is not as easy as it sounds. Without an aggressive program, trees die or are removed for causing infrastructure damage (hitting power lines, buckling sidewalks, invading water pipes, or just old “might fall on something”) faster than they can be planted. Trees also have to be carefully chosen for future conditions (drought, disease & insects).
Coral Gables, FL (pop 50,000) Florida and North Carolina suffer from governments who believe that if they hide under the covers, the monster won’t get them. The words “climate change” and “global warming” are banned in any official communication. Despite that handicap Coral Gables carried out a study and is now considering changing the city’s funding structure. 25% of incoming funding comes from property taxes on multimillion dollar oceanfront mansions. Those homes (or rather the “oceanfront”) won’t exist in 2050. This foresight is critical because most US funding for public education comes from property taxes.
Boulder Colorado (pop 100,000, 30% students) For public bussing to be successful, there needs to be a lot of riders. To defend itself in the city budget, it has to show some revenue. Increasing fares makes it harder for car-free people to use it, and drives away people who have the option of driving. Boulder Colorado solved this twenty years ago, by selling their students to the bus system. The university collects fees from students, every student ID works as a bus pass, and the university pays $4.5 million a year to public transit. This works as a powerful disincentive: students don’t bring cars to the city: parking is difficult and expensive and they already have a “free” unlimited bus pass.
Columbus, Wisconsin (pop 4,991) received a $40,000 grant from its energy wholesaler. Faced with the fact that it was the only money they had for climate change and it was a one-time offer, they didn’t use it to buy LED light bulbs. Instead they funded the first year of a new employee: economic development+sustainability. The new hire recruited companies with sustainable policies to relocate to Columbus and found more sources of funding. It looks like it’s going to be a permanent position.
I’m looking forward to what our towns and small cities can do with small budgets and big ideas. Hit me with it.
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About Kristy Dyer:
Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com