Climate Change and Resiliency
Boulder needs to start taking bold and sweeping actions to reduce our carbon emissions. This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (link here) gives us the most concrete and dire view of the impacts of climate change. Climate change is the biggest existential threat our planet has faced since the comet that struck the Earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. The only difference is that we created this calamity. Boulder has long-held values centered around stewardship of the environment and we must lean into our obligations to limit the impacts of climate change. As we look to our State and Federal leaders, and perhaps foolishly hold our breaths waiting for comprehensive action to mitigate the impacts of climate change, we must take action locally to do our part. Land use is arguably the most impactful tool we have to boost climate resiliency and lessen our greenhouse gas emissions. As we look forward, it’s clear we must do more to align our actions with our values.
I compliment the city for evolving its climate action planning to a systems-based framework (link here). This will give the city a better tool to analyze the contributions of individuals, businesses, and the city to our overall carbon footprint. Getting a more accurate inventory of where Boulder’s greenhouse gas emissions come from and evaluating which actions we can take to reduce emissions will put our city in a good position to make real change.
There are number of things I will focus on as a member of City Council:
Housing along transit corridors:
One of the largest contributions to greenhouse gas emissions in the city is that of the 60,000 people who commute in every day, most in single-occupancy vehicles. Housing affordability continues to climb out of reach of most people, which means the vast majority of those in service industries like restaurants, hotels, retail, etc. are priced out of Boulder and forced to commute into the city. With roughly 75% of housing in Boulder designated as single family, we have far less space designated for people who can’t afford a single family home that on average costs over $1 million. Study after study has shown that infill along or near transit corridors is one of the most effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. We can modify our land use and zoning to provide gentle infill along transit arteries and create more 15-minute neighborhoods. A great example of this are the two recent housing projects that have gotten a lot of support from Planning Board and Council: Waterview and Diagonal Plaza. We should do more of this. Allowing more duplexes and quadplexes would also help more individuals and families afford to live in the city.
Reducing the number of vehicle miles travelled is essential to addressing our climate goals. In addition to changes in housing, increasing our EV charging infrastructure will help motivate people to evolve away from traditional cars toward electric vehicles. I will work hard to reduce or outright abolish parking minimums for any new housing developments. Why build housing for the future based on today’s need for cars? Instead, let’s build the infrastructure for tomorrow. Additionally, we must expedite developement of infrastructure that encourages alternative modes of transit such as walking, biking, and bussing. Boulder has seen bike ridership double during the pandemic, so let's invest in the infrastructure to meet this increased demand by creating safe and protected biking lanes.
Flood protection at CU South:
Some 2,300 residents along South Boulder creek get to sleep a little easier now that the City and University of Colorado have approved the annexation agreement for CU South. With climate change undoubtedly bringing the next flood sooner rather than later, we must move quickly in the permitting and design process. There are many regulatory permits to do and there is no reason to not move full steam ahead. Protecting the 2,300 surrounding people from dangerous floods and keeping our main transit artery (Hwy 36) open during a natural disaster makes this project one of the most important infrastructure investments we can make to be a climate-resilient community. If we stay focused and dispel with referendums and recalls, we can have flood protection built in four to five years. Learn more about Flood Protection at CU South (link here).
Climate forward buildings and infrastructure:
As we continue to build new housing and other developments, we should be doing so with an eye for the future and climate resiliency. The things we build today will last for decades, so why aren’t we building for that future? Mandating rooftop solar for all new construction, net zero construction, and climate resiliency and energy efficiency into everything we build will drive our infrastructure to prepare for our future needs. We need to incentivize new construction to not just meet our climate standards but surpass them.
Protection from wildfires:
Boulder saw just how vulnerable we are from wildfires in 2020 when the Calwood Fire came down from Jamestown and burned homes along Highway 36. Had that fire started ten miles farther south, we would have likely seen dozens or hundreds of homes burned within the city limits. We have also watched as California has seen entire towns leveled by wildfires. We need to take more serious actions to work with the County and Forest Service to build awareness and invest in resources to protect our wild/urban interface. We need to act on proper brush clearance and tree trimming for homes west of Broadway as well as make sure we have the infrastructure for water and fire hydrants flanking the west side of town. These and many other actions will protect lives and property while also strengthening our climate resiliency.
The City of Boulder owns roughly 45,000 acres of Open Space, of which nearly a third (~15,000 acres) is agricultural land. Boulder should be helping lead the regenerative agricultural movement. Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, help reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. The regenerative agricultural movement isn’t new--in fact, it applies many of the indigenous and pre-industrial farming practices to modern-day globalized markets and technology. Key benefits are not only in carbon drawdown but also improvements to the water cycle. Supporting regenerative agriculture would increase climate resiliency as well as improve the economic vitality of our farmers and ranchers.
It is incumbent on every single one of us to think about how we build a climate-resilient community because at the end of the day, it is not about us. It is about the next generations. We must pay it forward with our actions and our values to care for this place we love.