Cedar Rapids officials take stand on climate change

City Council adopts targets for emissions and renewable energy

The 16th Avenue, 12th Avenue CRANDIC rail bridge and Eighth Avenue bridges cross the Cedar River, as seen from the top o
The 16th Avenue, 12th Avenue CRANDIC rail bridge and Eighth Avenue bridges cross the Cedar River, as seen from the top of Mount Trashmore on Tuesday, May 14, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids is the latest city to take a stand on climate change, adopting on Tuesday internationally recognized targets for emissions reduction and renewable energy expansion.

The long-anticipated commitment comes after weekly demonstrations from climate activists on the steps of City Hall as well as declarations made by other public bodies, including Linn County Board of Supervisors and the city of Iowa City. Awareness raised by Greta Thunberg and others has put pressure on public entities and businesses around the world to make more aggressive changes.

“We are intentionally re-evaluating better ways to access and grow and navigate the climate crisis, while reducing our personal contributions to the negative impacts on the environment,” said Ashley Vanorny, a City Council member who has been engaged in meeting with activists and developing a game plan.

The resolution approved by the Cedar Rapids City Council recognizes the urgency created by global warming and sets wide-sweeping goals for the community as a whole, which if achieved would require changes from residents and businesses. Cedar Rapids has firsthand experience with the effects of changing weather patterns with more frequent flooding.

City Council member Tyler Olson, who also was engaged in creation of the plan, said he has had initial conversations with stakeholders in the community and has received positive feedback.

“I’m glad we are putting forward strong goals that meet IPCC standards and a lot of the science that’s been done,” Olson said, referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The resolution is a continuation of efforts undertaken previously, including a recently implemented municipal sustainability plan for city operations that’s intended to model best practices for the community, but it also greatly expands those efforts, officials said.

Among the communitywide goals:

• Develop communitywide greenhouse gas inventory for 2010 to serve as a baseline.

• Reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

• Achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

• Reduce methane and black carbon emissions by 35 percent by 2050.

• Renewables supply at least 70 percent of electricity by 2050.

• Coal-generated electricity reduced to 0 by 2050.

• Decrease industry carbon emissions by 65 percent to 90 percent by 2050.


Bridget Williams, co-leader of the local chapter of Sunrise Movement, a youth effort focused on climate change, was among a group of activists who applauded following the unanimous vote by City Council. The civic process at times generates jeers, but rarely cheers.

Williams, who has been working with the city for several months, said the plan meets all the goals activists had sought, and because they took their time it goes further than some other local plans, such as requiring outreach for disadvantaged populations.

“Work seems global and it is, but work starts locally in communities like this,” she said, calling the plan “meaningful, achievable and equitable.”

Ayla Boylen, a Mount Mercy University student who started the Friday demonstrations, said she received permission to miss class to attend. She said the protests were not meant to ridicule the city or suggest council members didn’t care but to remind them “the fragility of our world and urgency of our situation.”

Eric Holthaus, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said over the next six months the city will hold climate education events and engage a climate action planning consultant. The following 12 months would include creation of a public climate action planning advisory committee and forming climate action and adaptation plan and targets.

Council member Scott Overland called it one of the “most important documents we will pass,” adding the plan has accountability and bench marks to track progress.

Mayor Brad Hart said, “To really make an impact, we do have to get out in the community and get businesses and citizens and neighbors, everybody else to join in.”

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