CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT
"I know we won't always agree, but I am confident Steve will do his homework, listen well to the community and work for thoughtful, balanced approaches to the challenges facing our community."
- LESLIE GLUSTROM | CLEAN ENERGY ACTION
For decades our world has failed to heed the warnings of scientists and we are now living with the consequences. The recently released UN IPCC report confirms the need to make sharp, immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to prevent warming beyond 1.5c and the catastrophes this would create.
I am committed to being a forceful advocate for local change to ensure my daughters inherit a habitable earth. We must act with urgency to address the climate emergency while preparing our community and protecting our local environment for what may come. We have long recognized that in lieu of national and global action, cities like Boulder need to take a leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and serve as a model for others to follow. Boulder must be a disruptive force to challenge the status quo and push forward both legislative and technical innovations to reduce GHG emissions.
In 2021, we acknowledged that others were not following our lead. We decided that we therefore needed to broaden our reach and adopt a system-based framework to our mitigation efforts. In practice, this means influencing decision-making beyond where our municipal government has direct authority, such as power generation, state regulation, and transportation. Our local policies and infrastructure investments should incentivize high performance buildings, clean mobility, and clean energy sources, but also incorporate the indirect embedded carbon impacts of our consumption patterns and construction.
Car travel constitutes only 8% of the fifty billion tons of greenhouse gas emitted globally per year, but the percentage contribution is much higher in Boulder, so reducing single occupancy, internal combustion car trips is a critical lever for us. Our efforts to improve car-free transportation have reduced car dependence for Boulder residents. However, the primary driver of local vehicle miles travelled are the 60,000 people who commute into Boulder every day. We must focus our growth, housing, and transportation policies toward reducing this number and ending the 1970s "hub and spoke" model of living and car commuting. Clean transportation should be convenient, safe, and cost-efficient. But we must prioritize equity by acknowledging that for many people and many trips, a car remains the only option.
The clearest and most tangible action we can take to reduce our GHG emissions is to deepen our commitment to electrification and obtain 100% of our power from clean sources as soon as possible. 64% of our electricity consumption remains fossil fuel based. In 2020 Boulder voters decided to continue our partnership with Xcel, so my role will be to hold them accountable and push them to meet their commitments on renewables, microgrid projects, and affordability. As an economist, I understand that the primary objective of a regulated monopoly is to maximize returns to shareholders, not minimize costs to ratepayers or shut down their coal plants. We must keep the pressure on to both accelerate the pace and lower the price. We will not be able to meet our climate goals in an equitable manner if our utility bills continue to increase by double digits.
All of these efforts will have disparate financial and human impacts, so we must ensure that they do not further distress residents already struggling with Boulder's high cost of living. Utility bills should be limited to 10% of income via priority access to neighborhood solar generation. Affordable housing developments must adhere to best-in-class efficiency and health standards. Our urban tree canopy and ground permeability must be enhanced and preserved in an equitable manner across the city to reduce heat island effects.
Parallel to these efforts, we must ensure that our community and local environment are resilient to a warming climate and extreme weather events. We need to protect residents from wildfire and flood risks by managing our forests, maintaining the green belt, refraining from building in flood plains, and reducing large-scale, land-disturbing activities. We need to protect our fragile native ecosystems from further disruption to increase their chance of coping with increased heat, drought, and erratic precipitation.