Our beloved Iowa City always ranks near the top of best city lists.
As cities across the world race to meet the IPCC’s imperative to cut CO2 emissions by 50 percent in the next decade to stem irreversible disaster, it’s time our city leadership ranked at the top for climate action.
Mayor Jim Throgmorton, City Manager Geoff Fruin and the sustainability staff are simply not up to the task.
Throgmorton’s State of the City declaration that “we have almost achieved the 2025 goal already” for greenhouse gas reductions, thanks to our outdated Climate Action Plan, is a misleading, dishonest and major set back.
Throgmorton, Fruin and sustainability staff should step down, or step up to the urgency of climate action.
Here are the facts: In 2014, MidAmerican made a major shift to wind energy production throughout Iowa. All MidAmerican customers, not just Iowa City, saw a 20 to 23 percent reduction in CO2 emissions for our electricity.
Throgmorton and his sustainability staff claimed MidAmerican’s investment for their own. Presenting Iowa City’s climate action plan last fall, Throgmorton disingenuously declared: “I am especially pleased to report that our latest (2015) communitywide inventory shows that emissions have decreased by roughly 23 percent since 2005.”
In truth, after wasting two years and $80,000 in hiring an out-of-town consultant, Iowa City’s climate action plan placed 99 percent of its success on the actions of two non-city entities: MidAmerican and the University of Iowa power plant, which needlessly burns coal and natural gas.
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The Iowa City plan included a lot of good ideas for energy efficiency, transportation, local food and more sustainable living, but as a committee member informed me, it was a “community failure,” mandating no binding ordinances, enforcement procedures, or specific partners who would be held accountable.
While hundreds of cities across the country have committed to 100 percent renewable energy plans, Iowa City has no plan for renewable energy other than to flick its switch and pay MidAmerican.
In 2015, a local solar energy provider even made a bid to install solar panels on City Hall in a zero-down power purchase agreement, but staff and council did not accept the offer.
Here’s the kicker: Iowa City’s climate action plan was outdated before it was even implemented. Last fall, the IPCC’s vast body of scientists around the world concluded that we must cut carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 — compared to Iowa City’s 26 percent benchmark — and produce zero emissions by 2050.
The city of Dubuque has already committed to cutting CO2 emissions by 50 percent by 2030. As part of the City Energy Project, Des Moines committed to cutting energy consumption by 50 percent by 2030.
Within six years, Copenhagen will become a carbon neutral city. The once industrialized port city has invested in major green infrastructure and passed strict ordinances. Thanks to protected bike lanes, 40 percent of the residents commute to work by bicycle.
Iowa City sustainability staff has often played games with fuzzy math. Iowa City is a 4-STAR Certified Community, but that rating includes cultural achievements: Iowa City only earned a 40 out of 100 rating on key Climate and Energy STAR benchmarks in 2016.
Iowa City boasts of planting 1,500 trees in the last years, but it has also cut down 700 trees due to the emerald ash borer and other problems. For soil carbon sequestration, cities like Adelaide, Australia have planted 3 million trees. A young Iowa City farmer once made a video of planting 10,000 trees in a few days. India planted 66 million trees in 12 hours last year.
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Other cities have green enterprise zones, incubators and incentives to jump-start new economies and keep young people in our towns. They’re implementing Green New Deal initiatives on a local level, not just handing out small grants for local groups to take up the huge burden.
Bottom line: Last year in Iowa, greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by 3 percent, despite MidAmerican’s growing wind energy production. Extreme weather and flooding in recent years have cost our region billions of dollars in damages. Climate change is happening now, it’s costly and deadly, and it will soon be irreversible in its destruction, especially for those who can least afford it.
In addition, over 10,000 new residents have moved to Iowa City since 2010, adding cars, residential and commercial energy demands, and food and waste needs to our city’s carbon footprint.
Instead of sitting back, applauding themselves and writing a check to MidAmerican to do the heavy lifting, Iowa City should make this climate emergency as the framework for all decisions.
We have no other choice. But it takes bold leadership.
Throgmorton and Fruin should step up to the task of real and immediate climate action for our beloved city, or step down for someone else to lead.
• Jeff Biggers of Iowa City is the author of “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland” and is founder of the Climate Narrative Project.