The Time for a
Climate Action Plan is NOW ...
There is no Planet B!
Written Climate Action Plan: The City of Des Moines needs a roadmap for what to do about climate change and the impacts the City is going to experience. While working with the DSM Citizen Taskforce on Sustainability, the group worked with Eric Giddens of UNI to do a Greenhouse Gas Inventory for the City. The next step is to get a plan in place that identifies which risks and impacts are most likely for the City, while identifying the challenges and opportunities within those and prioritize the order in which the City needs to address each. The Energy & Water Use Benchmarking ordinance that passed in July is an example of one action the City has already taken, but it is only a first step. Projects like improving the energy efficiency of our largest buildings, on-sight rainfall infiltration to reduce flash flooding and community solar arrays are other steps that can be taken to ensure safety and resilience in the community.
Full time city staff person in charge of turning climate policy into climate action: Without a dedicated staff person in charge of overseeing and implementing a Climate Action Plan, the likelihood of effective implementation is reduced. This has been shown across the country whereby cities that have a staff person dedicated to this responsibility have made greater and swifter gains in GHG reduction, lowered fossil fuel consumption and created more safety and resiliency to the challenges that lie ahead of us all.
Emergency response: As we saw in the flash flooding of June/July 2018, in which one of our own community members was swept away and drown, the effects of Climate Change can be deadly. In some ways, the City was caught with our pants down, not because we were negligent, but because the event was so unexpected and so unprecedented. What we can be assured of is that there will be more “next times” to come. Because of that, we need to make sure that our Emergency Response Units – Police, Fire and Ambulance workers – have a well-coordinated and effective communication system that allows them to talk to each other, and prioritize their responses. We must also ensure that they have the equipment to both do their job while keeping them safe. There should be a clear chain of command for a coordinated response and I believe this part of the plan should be developed by and with the workers who we rely on to fulfill these duties in conjunction with input from community members at large.
Food security: Climate change poses the risk of crop failures and potential famine around the world. It also poses the risk of energy and transportation disruption that will lead to supply chain disruption. Though Iowa is an agricultural state, we still import 90% of the food we eat. In the coming decades, we will no longer be able to rely on places like California and Florida to supply our daily fruits and vegetables. It’s estimated that urban areas are going to need to grow 40-60% of the food we eat within our urban boundaries if we are going to prevent food shortages and potential civil unrest. With that in mind, Des Moines needs to be making plans today for where and how we are going to feed ourselves in the near future. Making sure that our zoning code allows for urban farming is an important step. Creating programs that support young urban farmers and finding the land to grow food within the City is going to be critical to ensuring the stability and civility of Des Moines.
Clean Water: One of the things that Iowa will continue to have in abundance as compared to other parts of the country is enough water. However, we know that our water is at a critical stage of being polluted and that the cost of cleaning that water is very expensive. And while we are limited in what we can do to influence the use of farm chemicals that are causing the problem, we can make sure that our own storm water runoff is as clean as possible before it hits our rivers. With that in mind, Des Moines must have a vibrant Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) program that reduces naked run off and increases on-sight infiltration of storm-water. One city we can look to for an example of what works is the city of Philadelphia. By reducing impervious surfaces with permeable ones and creating a network of rain gardens and wetland ponds, Philadelphia has reaped benefits beyond merely cleaning its water, including an annual economic impact of almost $60 million in local jobs and tax revenues, improved air quality, enhanced wildlife habitats, reduced carbon footprint, improved property values near project sites and an aggregate cooling effect. Des Moines needs to implement a similar program to ensure we also gain these benefits.
Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE): PACE is a means of financing energy efficiency upgrades, disaster resiliency improvements, water conservation measures, and/or renewable energy installations of residential, commercial, and industrial property owners. PACE programs help home and business owners pay for the upfront costs of green initiatives, such as solar panels, which the property owner then pays back by increasing property taxes by a set rate for an agreed-upon term ranging from 5–25 years. This allows property owners to begin saving on energy costs while they are paying for their solar panels. This usually means that property owners have net gains even with increased property tax. In Iowa, we still need our State Legislature to enable cities to take advantage of this financing tool. The City of Des Moines needs to advocate for this legislation so that we can quickly increase and improve the amount of clean energy we produce; as well as increase our overall energy efficiency and thereby make our community more self-sufficient and less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and energy supply volatility.