Iowa City should not wait to act on climate

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Jeff Biggers. guest columnist

On the 8th anniversary of the historic 2008 flood, Iowa City and Coralville still emerging from an estimated $1 billion in damages, the Iowa City City Council will consider a staff proposal to spend $25,000 to hire an outside consultant for a Climate Change Task Force.

Task Force recommendations for a Climate Action Plan will apparently be considered for 2018, while staff pursues guidance from STAR Communities representatives, who recently gave Iowa City a disconcerting 40 out of 100 rating on the key Climate and Energy benchmarks.

While Iowa City’s commitment to climate action is laudable, and deserves high praise for its actions toward zero waste and a gold standard in urban bike designs, the question on this anniversary is whether deferring any meaningful action until 2018 reflects the urgency — and opportunity — of our times?

Does Iowa City want to be a climate action leader or deferrer?

According to a White House study this spring, “climate change poses a serious danger to public health — worse than polio in some respects — and will strike especially hard at pregnant women, children, low-income people and communities of color.”

Mayor Jim Throgmorton signed the Compact of Mayor’s climate agreement. The city’s 2016-17 strategic plan calls for a “substantive and achievable goal for reducing citywide carbon emissions by 2030.” On May 3, the city issued a “Regenerative City Day” proclamation that affirms “climate action as a central priority in strategic planning.” The Regenerative City framework, which unfolded through months of Ecopolis Forums, workshops and community discussions, proposes “to replant native prairies and trees to store carbon in the soils; expand urban agriculture; to power our city and neighborhoods efficiently through green building designs and renewable energy; to expand citywide recycling and composting through a zero waste ordinance; to make low-carbon transportation choices; to grow green jobs and support companies actively greening their operations.”

Climate action plans abound. Years ago, Minneapolis passed a great Climate Action Plan, Vancouver launched the “Greenest City Plan,” among hundreds of examples.

Following the regenerative city framework, Adelaide, Australia transformed its city by planting 3 million trees, converting urban waste to compost, ramping up a local food and green jobs economy, and creating solar and walkable neighborhoods. It reduced carbon emissions by 20 percent from 2007 and 2013, while the population grew by 27 percent and the economy boomed by 28 percent. By comparison, according to city figures, Iowa City emissions in 2013 were 1,298,620 metric tons, as compared to 1,329,144 metric tons in 2000.

Iowa City’s greatest resources are its innovative people and organizations, many of whom are nationally recognized experts on energy efficiency and renewable energy, soil, permaculture and riverfront restoration, local food and regenerative agriculture, building and urban designs, and low carbon transportation plans for walking, biking and mass transit. Nearby Kalona shines as a national model for solar energy; the Unitarian church in Coralville will soon build the “greenest church” in Iowa.

Iowa City should not wait until 2018 for real climate action.

Iowa City needs leadership from its city council to put its resources behind local innovators, overhaul old ordinances, and turn its regenerative city proclamation into an action plan.

• Jeff Biggers is a writer in Iowa City and co-founder of the Ecopolis Forums. Comments:

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