You’ve watched David Attenborough’s speech. You’ve followed the Washington Post’s dark and dire coverage of the 24th U.N. Conference. I’m glad these things happened. Realizing the extent of a problem is the first step in cleaning it up. Make no mistake, my friend: we’re cleaning it up.
These cities are making an awesome start. Greening cities is critical to the defeat of climate change, and as Bloomberg points out, it’s potentially a fantastic investment. Some people have already realized this and taken action. So when things seem bleak and your first attempt at composting fails, Google these forward-thinking bergs and take heart. You’re not in this alone!
1. Dale Ross has greened Georgetown, Texas
Want to live on a 100% green grid? Georgetown, Texas has you covered. The Republican governor says that coal can’t compete with wind and solar on cost. The city also composts and plans to expand electric car charging and rooftop solar.
Georgetown is solid red Trump territory and Ross is as practical a guy as any Republican. So what’s the difference? Personally, I think it’s because Ross is a CPA. He’s trained to look at numbers, not politics.
In 2016, students at Southwestern were looking into having a green campus at the same time as a major energy portfolio contract was ending. Ross, then a councilman, and his fellow city leaders sent proposals to both fossil fuel and renewable energy companies. The math on renewables made sense, and once they saw that, the partisan rancor attached to energy went right out the window. A deal is a deal.
When they pitched the idea to the conservative-leaning public, the city of Georgetown tweaked their lexicon to avoid politicized language. “progressive” became “innovative.” An “environmental decision” became a “business decision.” They also made it clear that nobody’s energy bill was going up.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, they stayed the course. There was blowback from constituents, but once people tried renewable energy, they found that it worked just like fossil fuel always had. Ross got promoted and Georgetown became the first of what I hope are many conservative environmentalist strongholds.
The article includes an interview with Ross, who seems to be a thoughtful guy. Go read!
2. Aspen embraces the water and wind
Aspen, Colorado doesn’t just get 100% of its energy from renewables. It was one of the first cities to do so, fitting dams for power generation in the ’90s and opting for wind power in 2005. Today, according to the city’s website, it gets about half of its power from wind and half from hydroelectric dams, with a tiny bit coming from solar panels. That’s way beyond original expectations – visionary Randy Udall, who tragically died before Aspen went renewable, set high hopes that the city would eventually get 30% of its energy from wind power.
There are environmental issues with hydroelectric power, of course, and in a truly sustainable system, any impact on wildlife needs to be taken into account. However, in a situation where the excess carbon in the atmosphere is the most pressing and immediate concern, there’s no question that hydropower is an important bridge to sustainability. A 2016 review in the open access, peer-reviewed journal Engineering is a nice piece of light reading for anyone doing their homework about hydro.
According to Aspen’s local newspaper, the popular ski destination was the third city to reach 100% renewable status after Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg Kansas. Speaking of which…
3. Greensburg, Kansas is actually a green burg
In 2007, an F5 tornado destroyed Greensburg, Kansas. When I say destroyed, I mean that Greensburg had nothing left. Here is a picture of Greensburg in 2007.
Faced with what Nature could do, the citizens of Greensburg decided, in a series of meetings with Mayor Bob Dixon, that they wanted to rebuild to green standards. Nobody originally planned to go 100% renewable, but, as Dixon tells it, support grew organically. The city built a wind farm, owned municipally, that provided all of the power for its citizens. People started coming back to the city and it began to thrive.
Here’s a picture of Greensburg today.
It’s growing and thriving. Young people are steadily moving there, possibly because of its reputation as a resilient green city. They did such a good job that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory used Greensburg as a case study in 2009.
There are others, of course, who are planning the transition to renewables. From St. Louis, Missouri to Ithaca, New York, the mayors of cities across the U.S. are stepping up. Need more? The Sierra Club has a full list.
In a time when bad news rolls in every day, it can be easy to forget that change begins as a groundswell. That groundswell is already underway.