What is the responsibility of governments in addressing climate change?

John “Skip” Laitner, well known to many EiD readers for his activities in sustainable development, and David A. Schaller, a retired EPA environmental scientist, write a good opinion piece in the Arizona Daily Star about a core government responsibility, using some important analysis from Arizona. What are your views?


Schaller and Laitner: Climate action as a core government responsibility

What if it wasn’t a choice between paving our streets or having a smart and productive climate-action program?

As the Star’s recent stories by reporter Tony Davis illustrate, there are dozens of affordable, cost-effective steps that governments and businesses can take now to build a more robust overall economy while at the same time putting a dent in carbon emissions that are making our lives hotter every summer. The work Pima County has committed to is absolutely a step in the right direction. But more is needed. Here’s why:

Our analyses show that had the full regional economy followed recommendations in the earlier Westmoreland Associates work cited by Davis, the region would be saving about $200 million today in avoided energy costs. That level of potential savings would be more than sufficient to pay for the recommended energy infrastructure upgrades. And, equally critical, carbon emissions might be about 8 percent lower. This translates into healthier balance sheets for the city and county, generating multiple benefits for residents and businesses alike.

Additionally, the latest local jobs data and projections featured in Tim Steller’s recent column show a continued economic weakening in our region that would benefit mightily from an all-in effort centered on renewables and energy efficiency. While critics say climate action will hurt the local economy, it is really the opposite. As Steller notes, business as usual is not producing jobs fast enough for economic gain to be felt in our neighborhoods and by our small businesses. Why stay on a path that is clearly not working?

Lower energy bills from more permanently efficient homes and businesses put money in pockets faster than a pay raise or tax cut. The economic risks for the city and county by sticking with business as usual are indeed risky business.

Circumstances conspire now to make climate action not only possible but more effective than ever: Solar prices are dropping across Pima County and energy efficiency technologies are improving, while utility bills march ever higher, giving us a true price signal to spur action. The emerging downtown energy district, the creativity of commercial PACE financing, the prospects of thousands of jobs insulating homes, installing energy-efficiency measures, solar panels, and electric-vehicle charging stations are all jobs that are real, local and cannot be outsourced.

While the city plans a community conversation on climate, the Pima County Board of Supervisors has now set a goal for lowering greenhouse gases and identified a schedule for getting this done. The board wisely recognizes that success depends on having specific emission-reduction targets, measurable actions, tracking mechanisms, and accountability for and public reporting of progress.

A U.S. Conference of Mayors survey tells us that dozens of cities — including Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix — are already pursuing smart-energy policies while presumably also meeting their responsibilities for paved roads, public safety, trash collection and other public services. In fact, these communities are better able to meet their core responsibilities because of the benefits achieved from reduced waste and inefficient use of energy, water and other resources. For them, climate action has become a core responsibility and a path to greater economic resilience.

While greater Pima County can no longer be the first to develop effective energy-saving, job-creating programs, the good news is that we don’t have to be last, either. If, as a next step, the city and county were to integrate climate, energy and water planning as core economic-development goals, these measures could guide and strengthen regional community development and help achieve the range of deep benefits we describe above.

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