Starting to Face Climate Change in a Small City

These are my notes for a citizen town hall organized in June 2017.  We were asked to bring a topic or topics of concern to share with the group. The process turned to be less formal than was originally planned, and I did not have a chance to share all of these thoughts, so I am posting them here for future reference:

Monmouth needs to take steps to help minimize and prepare for the effects of climate change.

Not that I think that our small town can single handedly solve climate change. Partially it’s because I believe we all have a duty to leave a more livable and prosperous world for our descendants. More immediately, though, is that these steps can make Monmouth a more affordable, desirable place to live. One that can attract more economic activity, and one that will be better prepared to manage the state and federal regulations that are bound to arrive when our nation’s leadership gets serious about tackling climate change.

We have two distinct advantages that give us an edge:

First, the electricity that the city buys is almost entirely fossil-fuel free.  While hydroelectric power and the tiny bit of nuclear power that feeds our grid have their own problems, they do not pose a climate risk.

Second is that we are an unusually compact community for a city of our size.  This is a key driver in the amount of materials and energy we use to go about our business.

As a small city we also have some challenges. We have fewer resources at our disposal to implement big ideas. A small population size makes it harder for businesses to establish themselves here and maintain a profit. And subsequently, many in our community have to leave town every day for work. Not only does this increase their carbon footprint, but it impacts their quality of life with a commute, less time with their families, and a sizable cost to their budget.

There are many things we can and should do, but here are some short term suggestions:

  • Work with public works and the bike/ped committee to revise the city’s transportation system plan to implement a complete bike network that feels safe enough for kindergartners to use.
  • Complete sidewalks on all arterial and collector streets.
  • Work with the CARTS bus service to address the last-mile problem in our own and surrounding communities to make transit a more viable option.
  • Make sure our building codes and approval processes encourage the construction and refurbishment of homes and buildings that are energy efficient and mixed use.

I believe the first and biggest step for Monmouth to come to grips with climate change is finding smart, desirable ways for us to spend less time in our cars. The risks of not doing so are great, and the benefits of taking action are many.  I hope we can provide an example for all the other small cities in the U.S. that taking on climate change leads to a brighter and more prosperous future.