Minneapolis seeks public input on ‘climate action plan’

Did you know that Minneapolis has its own plan to address climate change?

City staffers are updating the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan this year, and they’re asking for public input at a meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the Central Library.

The city first signed a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions nearly two decades ago. The resolution adopting the plan noted, “there is international scientific consensus that the issue of climate change is of paramount global concern.”

The 1993 goal was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2005 (based on 1988 levels). The city’s current goal is to reduce emissions by 15 percent by 2015 and 30 percent by 2025 (based on 2006 levels).

Meeting those goals has been a challenge. A 2009 city report compared emissions data from 2000 and 2006. It found a 4 percent decline in emissions.

Meanwhile, the past decade was the warmest on record, city planners said, and two years (2005 and 2010) tied for the warmest years since recording began in 1880.

The city’s website says the problem is urgent:

Without strong and early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, our city, state and nation will face severe consequences. In the Upper Midwest, we face increased heat waves, reduced air quality and increasing insect and waterborne diseases. Changes in precipitation mean we will also face increased periods of flooding and drought.

Tonight’s event includes two speakers – Dr. Mark Seeley, a climatologist and professor at the University of Minnesota (and a regular commentator for MPR News) and Kristin Raab, the climate change project director for the Minnesota Department of Health.

The city has asked those who plan on attending to register for the event online.

If you can’t attend, but still want to share your input, the city has created an online survey about energy efficiency and transportation.

  • mememine69

    The good news is that the occupywallstreet’s list of demands surprisingly does not even mention climate change. Perhaps taxing the air we breathe with corporate-run “Carbon Trading Markets” ruled by politicians also taxing the air we breathe wasn’t such a good idea after all. Obama hasn’t mentioned any “crisis” in his last two state of the union addresses. So ask yourself; why are the tens of thousands of scientists not reacting as their warnings of “crisis” are ignored by the world? Exaggeration is the only possible answer and how is studying the effects, not causes supposed to relevant? It was a consultant’s wet dream and we were all fools.

    Science after all, gave us the pesticides that made environmentalism necessary in the first place don’t forget. These lab coat consultants are not saints and real planet lovers are glad, not disappointed the CO2 crisis wasn’t real. Now we can face the future with courage and optimism as we preserve, protect and respect Nature instead of holding the spear of CO2 fear to our kid’s backs. Let’s leave the motivation by fear only and fear alone in the neocon’s playbook.

  • amy Blumenshine

    I’m sorry to say that our climate situation is serious and urgent. We owe it to our children to act now. From Jim Hansen, NASA scientist: The current situation regarding global climate change is described in a paper, The Case for Young People and Nature: A Path to a Healthy Prosperous Future, which I am preparing with the help of 17 international colleagues for submission to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. The paper includes more than 100 scientific references supporting the discussion in my statement below.

    Science, as described in numerous authoritative reports, has revealed that humanity is now the dominant force driving changes of Earth’s atmospheric composition and thus future climate. The principal climate forcing is carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel emissions, much of which will remain in the atmosphere for millennia. The climate system’s inertia, which is mainly due to the ocean and the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, causes climate to respond slowly, at least initially, but in a very long-lasting way to this human-made forcing.

    Governments have recognized the need to limit emissions to avoid dangerous human-made climate change, as formalized in the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Despite this, the Kyoto Protocol, established in 1997 to reduce developed country emissions and slow emissions growth in developing countries, has been so ineffective that the rate of global emissions has since accelerated to almost 3%/year, compared to 1.5%/year in the preceding two decades.

    There is a huge gap between rhetoric about reducing emissions and reality. Governments and businesses offer assurances that they are working to reduce emissions, but only a few nations have made substantial progress. Reality exposes massive efforts to expand fossil fuel extraction, including oil drilling to increasing ocean depths, into the Arctic, and onto environmentally fragile public lands; squeezing of oil from tar sands and tar shale; hydro-fracking to expand extraction of natural gas; and increased mining of coal via mechanized longwall mining and mountain-top removal.

    Governments not only allow this activity, but use public funds to subsidize fossil fuels at a rate of about 500 billion US$ per year. Nor are fossil fuels required to pay their costs to society. Air and water pollution due to extraction and burning of fossil fuels kills more than 1,000,000 people per year and affects the health of billions of people. But the greatest costs to society are likely to be the impacts of climate change, which are already apparent and are expected to grow considerably.

    Climate change is a moral issue of unprecedented scope, a matter of intergenerational injustice, as today’s adults obtain benefits of fossil fuel use, while consequences are felt mainly by young people and future generations. In addition, developed countries are most responsible for emissions, but people in less developed countries and indigenous people across the world are likely to be burdened the most while being least able to adapt to a changing climate.

    The tragedy of human-made climate change, should the rush to exploit all fossil fuels continue, is that transition to clean energies and energy efficiency is not only feasible but economically sensible. Assertions that phase-out of fossil fuels would be unacceptably costly can be traced to biased assumptions that do not account for the costs of fossil fuels to society or include the benefits of technology innovations that would emerge in response to an appropriate price on carbon emissions.

    Fossil fuel emissions so far are a small fraction of known reserves and potentially recoverable resources, as shown in Figure 1. There are uncertainties in estimated reserves and resources, some of which may not be economically recoverable with current technologies and energy prices. But there is already more than enough fossil fuel reserve to transform the planet, and fossil fuel subsidies and technological advances will make more and more of the resources available.

    Burning all fossil fuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows. The paleoclimate record and ongoing climate change make it clear that the climate system would be pushed beyond tipping points, setting in motion irreversible changes, including ice sheet disintegration with a continually adjusting shoreline, extermination of a substantial fraction of species on the planet, and increasingly devastating regional climate extremes.

    Phase out of fossil fuel emissions is urgent. CO2 from fossil fuel use stays in the surface climate system for millennia. Failure to phase out emissions rapidly will leave young people and future generations with an enormous clean-up job. The task of extracting CO2 from the air is so great that success is uncertain at best, raising the likelihood of a spiral into climate catastrophes and efforts to “geo-engineer” restoration of planetary energy balance.

    Most proposed schemes to artificially restore Earth’s energy balance aim to reduce solar heating, e.g., by maintaining a haze of stratospheric particles that reflect sunlight to space. Such attempts to mask one pollutant with another pollutant almost inevitably would have unintended consequences. Moreover, schemes that do not remove CO2 would not avert ocean acidification. The pragmatic path is for the world to move expeditiously to carbon-free energies and increased energy efficiency, leaving most remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

    Transition to a post-fossil fuel world of clean energies will not occur as long as fossil fuels remain the cheapest energy in a system that does not incorporate the full cost of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are cheap only because they are subsidized directly and indirectly, and because they do not pay their costs to society. Costs of air and water pollution caused by fossil fuel extraction and use, via impacts on human health, food production, and natural ecosystems, are borne by the public. Similarly, costs of climate change and ocean acidification will be borne by the public, especially by young people and future generations.

    Thus the essential underlying policy, albeit not sufficient, is a price on carbon emissions that allows these costs to be internalized within the economics of energy use. The price should rise over decades such that people and businesses can efficiently adjust their lifestyles and investments to minimize costs. The right price for carbon and the best mechanism for carbon pricing are more matters of practicality than of economic theory.

    Economic analyses indicate that a carbon price fully incorporating environmental and climate damage, although uncertain, would be high. However, it is not necessary or desirable to suddenly increase fossil fuel prices. Instead the price should be ramped up gradually, with the money that is collected from the fossil fuel companies (at the first sale, at the domestic mine or port of entry) distributed on a uniform per capita basis to legal residents. More than 60 percent of the public would receive more in their monthly dividend, distributed electronically to their bank account or debit card, than they would pay in increased costs due to higher fossil fuel energy prices.

    An economic analysis indicates that a tax beginning at a level of $15/tCO2 and rising $10/tCO2 each succeeding year would reduce emissions in the United States by 30% within 10 years. Such a reduction of carbon emissions is more than 10 times greater than the carbon content of tar sands oil that would be carried by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline (830,000 barrels/day).

    Relative merits of a carbon tax versus cap-and-trade continue to be discussed. Cap-and-trade has had some, albeit limited, success in Europe, but failed in the arena of U.S. policy, as opponents won the rhetorical battle by describing it as a devious new tax. The merits of an alternative, a gradually rising fee on carbon emissions collected from fossil fuel companies with proceeds distributed to the public, have been summarized by DiPeso, Policy Director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, as: “Transparent. Market-based. Does not enlarge government. Leaves energy decisions to individual choices…. Sounds like a conservative climate plan.”

    A rising carbon price is the sine qua non for fossil fuel phase out, but it is not sufficient. Other needs include investment in energy R&D, testing of new technologies such as low-loss smart electric grids, electrical vehicles interacting effectively with the power grid, energy storage for intermittent renewable energy, new nuclear power plant designs, and carbon capture and storage. Governments must support energy planning for housing and transportation, energy and carbon efficiency requirements for buildings, vehicles and other manufactured products, global monitoring systems, and climate mitigation and adaptation in undeveloped countries.

    Rhetoric of political leaders, including phrases such as “a planet in peril”, leaves the impression that they fully grasp the planetary crisis caused by rising atmospheric CO2. However, closer examination reveals that much of the rhetoric is aptly termed “greenwash” (J. Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren, Bloomsbury, 2009, 304 pp.) as even nations considered to be among the “greenest” support expanded fossil fuel extraction including the most carbon-intensive fuels such as tar sands. The reality is that most governments, rather than taking actions to rapidly phase out fossil fuels, are allowing and using public funds to partially subsidize continued fossil fuel extraction, including expansion of oil drilling to increasing ocean depths, into the Arctic, and onto environmentally fragile public lands; squeezing of oil from tar sands and tar shale; hydro-fracking to expand extraction of natural gas; and increased mining of coal via mechanized longwall mining and mountain-top removal.

    How is it possible that a specter of large human-driven climate change has unfolded virtually unimpeded, despite scientific understanding of likely consequences? Would not governments – presumably instituted for the protection of all citizens – have stepped in to safeguard the future of young people? A strong case can be made that the absence of effective leadership in most nations is related to the undue sway of special financial interests on government policies and effective public relations efforts by people who profit from the public’s fossil fuel addiction and wish to perpetuate that dependence.

    Such a situation, with the science clear enough to demand action but with public understanding of the situation, and thus political response, hampered by the enormous financial power of special interests, suggests the possibility of an important role for the judiciary system. Indeed, in some nations the judicial branch of government may be able to require the executive branch to present realistic plans to protect the rights of the young. Such a legal case for young people should demand plans for emission reductions that are consistent with what the science shows is required to stabilize climate.

    Judicial recognition {Hansen’s remarks were in response to a British lawsuit} of the exigency and the rights of young people will help draw attention to the need for a rapid change of direction. However, fundamental change is unlikely without public support. Obtaining public support requires widespread recognition that a prompt orderly transition to the post fossil fuel world, via a gradually rising price on carbon emissions, makes overall sense and is economically beneficial.

    The most basic matter, however, is not one of economics. It is a matter of morality – a matter of intergenerational justice. As with the earlier great moral issue of slavery, an injustice of one race of humans to another, so the injustice of one generation to another must stir the public’s conscience to the point of action. Until there is a sustained and growing public involvement, it is unlikely that the needed fundamental change of direction can be achieved.

    A broad public outcry may seem implausible given the enormous resources of the fossil fuel industry, which allows indoctrination of the public with the industry’s perspective. The merits of coal, of oil from tar sands and the deep ocean, of gas from hydrofracking are repeatedly extolled, all of these supposedly to be acquired with utmost care of the environment. Potential climate concerns are addressed by discrediting climate science and scientists, including use of character assassination and every negative campaign trick that they have learned.

    The fossil fuel kingpins who profit from the public’s fossil fuel addiction, some of them multi-billionaires, are loosely knit, but with a well-understood common objective of maintaining the public’s addiction. These kingpins have the resources to be well aware of the scientific knowledge concerning the consequences of continued exploitation of fossil fuels. However, they choose not only to ignore those facts, but to support activities intended to keep the public ill- informed. These kingpins are guilty of high crimes against humanity and nature. It is little consolation that the world will eventually convict them in the court of public opinion or even, unlikely as it is, that they may be forced to stand trial in the future before an international court of justice.

    The fossil fuel kingpins are separated from the foot soldiers who serve as their public mouthpieces, separated by multiple layers of people, and even by corporations, which some courts have granted rights and protections of people.

    The public has the right to know who is supporting the foot soldiers for business-as-usual and to learn about the web of support for the propaganda machine that serves to keep the public addicted to fossil fuels and destroys the future of their children.

  • Michelle Wood

    The ignorance displayed by the first comment is shocking, dangerous, and scary. If a majority of such generally educated, articulate people are so easily manipulated by greedy charlatans, our children are in peril.

    As a society, we must make a vigorous effort to promote scientific literacy. Make no mistake: this controversy isn’t scientific. This controversy is rooted in the intransigence driven by big investments, commerce, politics, and religion. Without the scientific criteria to evaluate information, anyone is easily led to his own demise.