116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Climate change is well underway and it’s costing us dearly in Cedar Rapids.
Three floods over the past 15 years inflicted an estimated $1.2 billion in damage, according to city figures. The region experienced a 42 percent jump in precipitation during major rainfall events between 1958 and 2016. The number of 90-degree days also is increasing and tree cover lost in last year’s derecho is making the area even hotter.
With the problems in view, Cedar Rapids officials are taking action. The city recently published a draft of its Community Climate Action Plan, aiming to cut local carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. The City Council is expected to vote on the plan this week.
Cedar Rapids’ proposed climate action plan has two important parts: One, to reduce local carbon emissions thereby doing our part to slow and reverse the effects of climate change; and two, to make the community more resilient to the climate disasters that are already happening and promise to accelerate.
This editorial board has applauded cities for adopting climate action plans and urged others to follow. Cedar Rapids has the same target as Iowa City, to reach zero carbon by 2050. It’s a lofty goal but it’s particularly impressive for Cedar Rapids, which has a bustling industrial sector.
Make no mistake, reaching Cedar Rapids’ aggressive emissions goals will require sacrifices and compromises
Industry presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the city’s climate goals. On one hand, industrial polluters account for the biggest share of emissions with a whopping 72 percent and the city has little direct influence over them. On the other hand, those corporate citizens already have their own emissions reduction goals.
ADM, General Mills, Cargill, Ingredion and PepsiCo are some of the major businesses with facilities in Cedar Rapids that have goals to cut their emissions by double digits in the coming years.
Companies with national and global operations have choices to make about where to focus their sustainability projects. Whether for altruism or public relations, big businesses have demonstrated an interest in locating and expanding in green cities. The city plans to collaborate with companies to position Cedar Rapids as an environmentally sustainable business destination.
Between shifts in industrial energy and Alliant Energy’s transition to renewables, the city will realize a significant portion of its carbon reduction goals. If those plans come to fruition, that will end up being the easy part. The harder problem might be persuading individuals to adopt climate-friendly lifestyles.
The proposed climate action plan envisions “15-minute neighborhoods,” where citizens can reach the amenities they need within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home. That will require smarter planning to increase density and also adding new services where people already live.
Right now, there are too many areas of town where residents can’t walk to an adequate grocery store, school, recreation or other destinations. That includes both wealthy neighborhoods restricted to single-family housing and low-income neighborhoods that have not always been well served by public and private investment.
The city plans to do all this with a focus on equity — expanding community gardens in underserved neighborhoods, installing energy efficiency updates in low-income homes, and offering sustainability subsidies to small and minority-owned businesses, as a few examples.
It all sounds great but make no mistake, reaching Cedar Rapids’ aggressive emissions goals will require sacrifices and compromises. Take e-scooters and e-bikes for example.
The city lists micro-mobility and ride-sharing among its strategies to reduce reliance on cars. It’s one part of the plan that is already in the works, with the VeoRide scooters and bicycles available for rent.
The scooters and electric, shared and designed for short trips, all positive points for sustainability. But the scooters have also generated great consternation from residents who say they clutter the sidewalks or pose a safety hazard.
If something as simple as scooters can set off a heated public debate, we worry about the possible backlash to bigger changes. For the climate action plan to succeed, it will need buy-in from the whole community.
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