While researching strategies for communicating about climate change, Boise Public Works Director Steve Burgos discovered that painting a “doom and gloom” portrait is an ineffective method of inciting action. Instead, Burgos prefers “hopeful urgency”.
“Our hope is that people see the opportunity in what’s to come,” he told Idaho Press in a recent interview with the city’s climate action chief Steve Hubble.
Opportunity is a key aspect of Boise’s new Climate Action Roadmap, a document that guides the city, its residents and businesses in meeting greenhouse gas reduction targets, culminating in city-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. The electrification of vehicles and buildings is not only necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change, but it is also economically efficient and can improve quality of life des Boiseans, according to the plan.
[‘It’s a people issue’: Boise adopts climate action plan, carbon neutrality goal]
A historic heat wave in recent weeks in the Northwest is the result of climate change, according to a recent study. The anticipated drought and destructive forest fires for the remainder of the summer are further indicators of the urgency for climate action.
“We have to move forward on this point,” said Burgos. “This summer will be a great example of some of the impacts we’re seeing. “
“Flag in the ground”
Climate action is a priority for Mayor Lauren McLean. Last year, she created a division within Public Works to create a long-term climate action plan. Hubble has been appointed director of the Climate Action division, which now has five employees. The move has helped raise the level of climate problems in municipal government, Hubble said. As a priority, this is nothing new for the town of Boise.
“We have been helping to integrate climate needs into all the daily work they do for years,” Hubble said.
In 2019, under the leadership of former mayor Dave Bieter, the city adopted an energy plan with a target of 100% clean electricity throughout the city by 2035. The roadmap for climate action goes further and proposes new objectives: that the city’s operations are carbon neutral by 2035, that the community as a whole is carbon neutral by 2050 and that the community’s resilience to the impacts of climate change is reinforced.
“We put a flag in the ground,” said Burgos.
Ben Otto, an energy associate at the Idaho Conservation League, who consults with energy utilities on sustainable practices, said Boise’s roadmap was among the most ambitious climate plans he has ever had. seen. But the goals are achievable, Otto said. He would have liked to see the carbon neutrality benchmarks arrive even earlier than in 2035 and 2050.
“It has a good scale,” said Otto. “It covers electricity and methane, transportation, environmental values, affordability. Having this range of topics is really important.
“The plan shows that taking climate action is good for the quality of life and the local economy,” he said. “It’s not just a burden to take on, it’s actually a positive gesture if we make the right investments. To frame the problem in this way is, I think, really compelling. “
Other cities in the region have adopted or are working on similar plans to tackle climate change, including Salt Lake City; Spokane, Washington; and Bozeman, Montana. In Idaho, Blaine County and the City of Hailey signed a goal of 100% clean energy by 2045 last year, Idaho Mountain Express reported. In December, the city of Ketchum also signed.
Cities are “leading the way” on climate action, Burgos said, because they can invest in long-term solutions, while private companies cannot necessarily wait for slow returns. Boise’s new downtown police “micro-station” has a fully electric power system and a 16-year payback period on the sustainable investment. The substation is expected to last 50 years, Burgos said.
“It’s obvious,” he said. “We show that it can happen. We can make long-term decisions on behalf of citizens that will really pay off in the decades to come. “
The Climate Action Roadmap urges business leaders and residents to take their own initiatives to cut emissions and reduce waste. For individuals, he recommends purchasing an electric vehicle, cycling when possible, and installing more durable heating and air conditioning systems. For businesses, he suggests providing buildings with emission-free energy sources and other sustainable practices. Another idea in the plan is to develop a ‘climate economy accelerator / incubator’ to support and recruit climate-focused businesses.
“Companies are going to form around these solutions,” said Burgos. “Why can’t they be in Boise?” Why can’t they help the local economy?
Improving equity is one of the guiding principles of the plan. This means creating energy solutions that benefit groups or communities that have not been engaged or supported by climate talks in the past, Hubble said. One example is to address a disparity in the tree canopy between high-income and low-income neighborhoods.
Burgos and Hubble admit that these climate solutions come at a cost. Electric cars are cheaper than before, but they are not free.
A municipal ordinance codified in December requires builders to include high-voltage outlets for electric vehicles in new homes. One builder estimated that outlets would increase the cost of a home from $ 500 to $ 1,000. This adds to record housing costs in the Treasure Valley.
Hubble said that such a cost is minimal compared to the price of a house, and electric vehicles save money in the long run.
“We tend to always focus on the cost of things, but we tend not to focus on the cost of doing nothing,” he said. “Yes, in this example there may be a minimal cost to help support an (electric vehicle) in a new home, but what are the costs of not doing it?” In some ways, we need to take advantage of these opportunities.
Another upcoming investment is a recycled water program. For an estimated $ 1.2 billion over 20 years, Boise plans to expand wastewater treatment capacity, replace infrastructure, and establish a wastewater recycling program and use it for irrigation and recharge of aquifers.
Again, city leaders see the program as an opportunity to build resilience to the effects of climate change, such as drought. Warmer days, heavy rainfall, frequent droughts, poor air quality and other extreme weather events are likely to come, and the roadmap identifies initiatives to move forward in strengthening the resilience.
Ultimately, the climate plan relies on public support.
“We have a lot of opportunities to lead in our own facilities, but they are only a small part of a big city, and I think there are a lot of exciting opportunities for residents and businesses,” Hubble said. “This collaboration must be a big part of it in the future.”