By Chris Nelder
Posting in Cities
How two mayors of small towns in right-wing America are showing the way to energy and climate progress: through local action.
Rex Parris was on fire at the Pathways to 100% Renewables Conference in San Francisco two weeks ago.
Eschewing the podium on the stage, he paced the floor and worked the crowd with the flair of the practiced personal injury trial lawyer he is, modulating his voice from a near-whisper to a thunder. He would have made an equally good evangelical preacher, I thought.
"Imagine there were an asteroid coming, and every reputable astrophysicist tells us it's coming, and it's aimed right at us," he opened by way of example. "Because that's what they're telling us…isn't it?" He didn't need to explain that the asteroid was a metaphor for global warming.
After studying the issue, Parris became convinced that the threat of climate change was that serious. "It didn't matter what party I was in," he explained. "It's science, not a political issue."
As the mayor of Lancaster, California (population 157,000), Parris knows a thing or two about politics, but insists that climate change should not be a political issue. "Every time somebody puts it in the political domain, we lose half the country," he lamented.
When he became a grandfather a year ago, Parris became much more concerned about the world we're leaving for our grandchildren. "It terrifies me," he admitted. "Something horrible is coming."
He set off on an exploration, paying his own expenses to attend energy conferences around the world on his own time. "I found that the whole world knows that something horrible is coming," he said.
I profiled Parris last June, after he set a goal to become the first city in the nation to be 100 percent powered by renewables, and to be the “solar energy capital of the world." An article about Parris three weeks ago in the New York Times vaulted him into the national spotlight, in which he said of the global warming threat, “I may be a Republican. I’m not an idiot.”
Parris found it puzzling that the author of the Times article was excited that he's a Republican, because in his estimation climate change is a matter of public safety. "We Republicans are good at public safety. This is a public safety issue. Why don't we treat it that way?" he asked rhetorically.
Lancaster is perfectly situated for solar, located in the region with the most solar radiation in the country: 6,500 watt-hours per square inch, according to Parris.
Driven by "a competitive spirit," Parris has helped to turn his city into the solar leader in California. He boasted that Lancaster now has 177 watts per capita of solar production, compared with 61 watts in San Jose and 38 in sunny San Diego. Ultimately, he wants the city to be "net zero before anyone else," consuming no net grid power.
To help achieve that goal, he's leveraging the power of the city building and planning departments. "We can't fix [climate change] top-down, but it's easy to fix bottom-up." he said.
Parris began his campaign by bringing Chinese energy company BYD together with KB Homes, a major homebuilder in the area, and offered to waive all building permits if they would build zero-energy homes. The partnership then built its first three net-zero homes, which also powered electric vehicles.
The demonstration was a success, and created more demand because the new homes cost $67 per month less to power and heat than an equivalent pre-owned home in the area. KB Homes now offers solar as an add-on to all their new homes.
In March, Lancaster issued new rules that require builders of new single-family homes in Lancaster to also build at least 1 kW of new solar capacity for every home constructed, depending on the size of the lot (although not necessarily on each home – equivalent capacity built in a parking lot or a community solar park would also fit the bill).
Parris aimed to make it as easy as possible to go solar by directing city staff to clear away obstacles in the building and planning approval process. "The city staff now looks for a reason to say yes," Parris said. Contractors can now pull a permit for a residential solar array in 15 minutes, over the counter, for just $61.
As a former residential and commercial solar system designer and salesperson, I can tell you what a crucial difference this makes. I never hesitated to pursue a project where the building and planning departments were friendly to solar and permits were cheap, but I refused projects in jurisdictions that required me to submit five copies of unnecessarily complex permit packages, then wait weeks to get them approved by three separate agencies, at a cost of several thousand dollars. As Parris put it, "This isn't rocket science! It should be over the counter."
Importantly, Lancaster didn't have to reach into the city coffers to become a solar success story. "We have no money!" Parris explains. "It was just done because we decided that it was important enough."
Now Parris is working to create a profitable and scalable model that other cities can follow, irrespective of federal and state policies. "If you want to have net-zero buildings, who should you be talking to? The guy who says what goes on the permit: the mayors," he said. His team is developing "a package we can hand off to cities, explaining the ordinances they have to change to enable this," and inviting other municipal leaders to come to Lancaster and learn how to save the planet. "I'll do everything I can for you," Parris offered. "I'm volunteering!"
Rebuilding for sustainability
With his quiet and humble demeanor, Bob Dixson, the mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, comes across as the opposite of Parris, but he shares the latter's belief in bottom-up solutions. Ninety-five percent of his small town (population 775) was leveled by a tornado packing 205 mph winds in 2007. "We lost everything," he told the conference. "In a matter of minutes, we were all homeless."
In the aftermath, the town came together under a big tent because there were no buildings left, and "right off the bat, they started talking about green buildings," Dixson said.
They started by reconsidering their most fundamental beliefs and objectives. "Who are you? What do you care about? Where do you want your town or region to be 50 or 100 years from now? What do you want to leave to your children?" And then, "How could we use this opportunity to address some long-term problems in our community?"
The answer the farming community landed on was to build the most sustainable town they could, expressed in a new mission statement: "Blessed with a unique opportunity to create a strong community devoted to family fostering business, working together for future generations."
"We've had a misconception and made a political football about being sustainable," Dixson observed, but the "opportunity" that rebuilding presented changed all that. "It was a ground-up process. We didn't rely on the government." The community formed a public square steering committee and recovery action team, who brought together the business sector, the planning commission, and the city council staff in community-wide meetings.
Six months after the disaster, the town passed a new resolution that all buildings would be LEED-certified, a ratings system for efficient and sustainable buildings. The new arts center was the first LEED Platinum building in Kansas, and the city's "Sun Chips" business incubator became the state's first LEED Platinum municipal building. The new John Deere dealership was also certified as LEED Platinum. The rehabilitated county courthouse achieved LEED Gold certification, partly through its use of geothermal wells for heat.
The town also put in a 12.5-megawatt community wind farm through a public-private partnership, and the power it generates is shared with other nearby cities..
"We're called to be humble public servants for a brighter tomorrow," Dixson asserted. "There's only one question we need to answer: do we want to leave the world a better place?"
All energy and climate solutions are local
Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill famously said that "All politics is local," and I firmly believe that the same is true for all energy and climate solutions. It's really the nature of distributed renewable energy generation, and it's really where politics are most receptive to it. At the local level, creating a more sustainable world for your children, and saving money because your home is more energy-efficient, simply make sense.
Dixson offered encouraging words for those who would like to transform their communities similarly. "Do not let sub-optimal people cloud your vision for a brighter tomorrow," he admonished." By changing our problem-solving techniques and decision-making processes, as his town did, we can build a more sustainable future.
In fact, maybe it's time we just forgot about the ideological wars raging in Washington, D.C. "Some of my Republican friends accused me of being disloyal to the free market," Parris mused. "It's beyond me." As far as he's concerned, addressing global warming is a moral and public safety imperative, and we can't afford to lose the urgency of it. "We act like it's a business. It's not. We have a certain amount of time to affect the course of that asteroid and then it will be too late."
Photo: Greensburg, Kansas after it was flattened by a tornado. (Greg Henshall/FEMA)
Apr 30, 2013
People only see the near term, what has just happened and what is happening, they do not anticipate the long term, i.e. consequences that will happen in hundreds and thousands of years, even though people then will be cursing people today, namely you - what were you thinking? Apparently you weren't thinking of what ultimate impact our collective cumulative actions of today and yesterday are going to have on future generations who will have no choice but live through the hell that we unwittingly destine them to. We entrust that clarity to see the future of our actions and set appropriate policy goals to our elected politicians, and some (such as Obama) have more ability to see ahead than others (such as GW Bush).
Chris, This sounds great as reported and the mayor appears to have a genuine public service attitude - impossibly rare to find these days. However, as a modern citizen I'm used to having media reported reality, being quite different from actual reality. The best example I know is the socialized medical system of Germany - reported to be "one of the best in the world." Having family in Germany using the same system is an actual reality - and it is nothing like what is reported, but in reality a technically outdated, corrupt, and at best marginal healthcare system. Point being, please keep reporting on the implementation of the development of this town and how well it actually meets its goals and compares service wise and economically to the status quo.
I too have never understood why conservatives are not completely against air and water pollution.Seems counter-intuitive, but common. I also hear conservatives complaining about the liberal nanny-state while they vote against the legalization of marijuana. (I also see a lot of non-scientific leftist attitudes.) Essentially, your political stance is an opinion. Reality is something else entirely. Democracy seems like a good idea--inclusiveness--until you realize it is essentially choosing government policy the same way we choose Top 40 radio hits. As long as governing is only for entertainment purposes, this works well. National Librarian Month is probably a law. But once governing becomes real, real folks have to make real choices. Chicago Parks department is planting trees that will thrive in the expected future climate. Trees live over a century. What is each individual voter's timespan of concern and what should be the timespan of concern for a government?
[i]"Eschewing the podium on the stage, he paced the floor and worked the crowd with the flair of the practiced personal injury trial lawyer he is, modulating his voice from a near-whisper to a thunder. He would have made an equally good evangelical preacher, I thought."[/i] Sure sounds like the latter two, to me.
"Its science, not a political issue." Not exactly. "Climate action" is a "jihad" issue for the quasi-religion of climate change environmentalism. And unfortunately for the rest of us, the high priesthood of climate change has fewer qualms about foisting their religion on the [i]hoi polloi[/i] than, say, the Taliban. So much for separation of church and state. Something horrible [i]is[/i] coming. In fact, it's already here. It creeps in on stocking feet in the form of people like Rex Parris. It's called statism. Just say no. Or, vote with your feet and move to some place that let's you live as you choose, just as droves of Californians are doing.
Whether or not the problem of anthropogenic climate change exists is strictly a science problem and at this point it's been decisively shown that it does. Scientists in the field have moved on to arguing the details now. As Parris said âIt didnât matter what party I was in, Itâs science, not a political issue.â What we do about it is a matter of politics as informed by science. But the politics is going to be difficult as long as there are substantial numbers and money behind denial of the science. What I see as religion in this argument is an unwarranted faith in the free market that trumps all other considerations including responding to global warming. Maybe the free market can cure AIDS as well.
It is called cooperation, getting along, government and even taxes. Those of us that believe we are more than just ourselves, those of us that are part of a family, community, town, city, nation or world, know we must work together to survive the changes we face in the world. Sorry, but the rugged individual worked better in another time. We need to work together now or we will all die alone.
If global warming is a religion then it's an awesome religion because it's got actual evidence to back it up.
They're moving out alrighty...right into Colorado and oddly enough, they're ruining it in the same fashion as the state they left.
Like a lightening bolt from the 9th Century, Mr. Thor lives in the pre-scientific past. Californians are moving to my beloved Colorado because the warming induced wet weather and mud slides are driving them to the cooler, clean air of the Eastern Slope mountains.
How poorly educated do many in the "climate community" have to be in order to not only allow themselves to be photographed doing this, but to be proud enough to actually post it on their web site? http://www.webcitation.org/6GJvAbb2t Burning books? Really? Be sure to look at that link quickly, before someone at the San Jose State University history or literary departments rushes over to the department of Meteorology and Climate Science to let them know how embarrassing this looks. Either way, this is hardly the behavior of "scientists". Or is it now?
...then we wouldn't be having these conversations. But as long as the vanguard of advocate scientists keep behaving like politicians and preachers, and the politicians do the same, we'll continue to call it "politics" and "religion". It's funny you slipped and said [i]"as long as there are substantial numbers and money behind denial of the science."[/i] There's far more money behind the AGW agenda than there has ever been behind "the deniers". If the "deniers" are denied anything, it's unfettered access to the government fisc.
and, we all know that, unicorns can be proved to have existed. If there ever was a science that best fits the "GIGO' principle, then, global warming is it. That mayor has been living too long in California, and he's swallowed too much of that "global warming" kool-aid. He is a major, and a politician, and might have been a lawyer, but, he's as qualified to speak about global warming as a 2 year old is about particle physics. That mayor has been in liberal California for too long, and he's no republican nor a conservative. At best, he's a RINO, which is a liberal pretending to be a republican.
I live on the Front Range of Colorado, and it's the first time I've ever heard the Western Slope described as wet with mud slides. It's true we've had a lot of snow the last month (very much like the mid 1970s), but the state has always been arid and will remain that way. No, more Californians are leaving the state for Nevada, Arizona and Texas, not Colorado (see https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/051/ ). And the reason is not global warming, but the huge state taxes, over-regulation, and extremely poor business environment in California. The only factor climate change has in this is the way it helps drive these terrible trends in California. The downside is that all these Californian exiles are bringing their politics with them and spreading the Californian malaise. Colorado has become a blue state, Nevada is almost there, and Arizona is on its way as well. Even Texas could become blue in the next 10 or 15 years. The whole southwest is becoming a bunch of California mini-me's.
...but if I were to burn Al Gore's book on practically any college campus, I'd be expelled for committing either a hate or environmental crime. And, of course, I'd be compared to Nazis. Fortunately, I have far more self-awareness than the warming zealots do.
LOL, I've heard of that book that the Heartland Institute is sending to universities around the country. Using it for fuel is probably a higher usage for it than wasting your time actually reading it.
adornoe, You of course are the expert on the subject. If we listen to you then we don't know anything about climate. Yet ice around the world continues to melt, temperatures in the atmosphere and oceans continue to rise, sea level is going up, the oceans continue to acidify. I think I'll continue to listen to the scientists who actually study the subject rather than a conspiracy theorist like you.
sources, and not credible. When the sources for the data are part of the conspiracy, then, the data and science and reporting, are all suspect. Global warming science is junk science, and anybody that doesn't understand the scientific method, or that doesn't give a damn about it, should not be talking about "science". That includes you, river rodent.
That was a pretty laughable article. The author says they doesn't publish the raw temperature records yet I has no trouble finding them here: ftp://ftp.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/ghcn/v2 The only adjustments made to the GHCN data are to account for non-climatic inhomogeneities in the record such as changes in instrumentation, station environment or observation practices (such as changing the time of day the observation was made). The interesting thing about the raw data is that if you plot it out and compare it to the adjusted data there isn't much difference.
...and they still need to fudge their numbers? http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2013/01/was-2012-the-hottest-year-on-record-in-the-us.php
[b]...then we wouldn't be having these conversations.[/b] If climate science did not have the sort of real world implications that it has regarding the need to change how we do things in a large way then it wouldn't be controversial at all. But look at how controversial the connection between tobacco smoking and the health consequences was in the past. It took time to overcome the opposition. Many of the same people who railed against the smoking connection to lung cancer are the people who rail against global warming, Fred Singer and the Heartland Institute for example. In the climate science community very few argue against the consensus and even they are mostly arguing that it's not a bad as others say, not that it isn't happening at all, Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer for example.
The "money behind the AGW agenda" as you put it is mostly spent on doing actual science rather than on PR. How much does it cost to build, launch and use a satellite that collects data? How much does it cost to build and maintain the thousands of weather stations around the world, the thousands of ARGO floats collecting oceanographic data? How much for the supercomputer time to analyze all of the data collected? The money on the scientific side is not spent on PR, it's spent on doing actual science.
People who shout RINO these days seem to be Tea Party members. Harry Reid is still a senator because of a mindless TP candidate. Republicans had no chance in Delaware because of a mindless TP candidate. Dick Lugar's old senate seat went Democratic because of a mindless TP candidate. And of course there was another one losing in Missouri. We got stuck with BHO for a second term because most of the candidates for the Republican nomination were mindless TP candidates. Meanwhile, TP favorites Ron and Rand Paul are the real RINOs. They're Libertarians running as Republicans because they know they wouldn't have a chance at winning as Libertarians. Meanwhile, conservation and conservative come from the same root. I agree that the global warming hysteria is based on junk science. It takes a real idiot not to notice that the climate is warming. The problem is the dogmatic insistance that modern industry is its sole cause. I wish Mayor Parris had not used global warming as his reason for backing solar energy. There are lots and lots of good reasons to bid fossil fuels a fond farewell as quickly as efficiently possible that don't depend on junk science. May the Tea Party go away and let the Republican Party rebuild it's shattered reputation for adult politics.
[i]"That mayor has been in liberal California for too long, and he's no republican nor a conservative. At best, he's a RINO, which is a liberal pretending to be a republican."[/i] That my friend is one reason the Republican party is losing out so badly in many places and has to resort to tricks like gerrymandering and voter suppression.
What PAP. California is so screwed up because of that culture. It's not going to avert anything aside from sanity. Polar opposite from "best and brightest" - worst and dimmest and all critical thinking is out the window.
So, CA is exporting it's hippie culture back to the states from whence came many of its best and brightest. That's excellent news! Now, those Red States, which are red mostly by virtue of immigration of Blue Voters, can start to show the kind of politics that can get the job done: to avert Global Warming will take top-down and bottom-up approaches.
left in 2010. We had other reasons, but the ones you listed were on the list. We moved to a red state (wife's family). We did NOT bring any left-wing garbage with us. We were escaping that. Unfortunately, you are right about some of them. We are not turning our new state blue. We know others who have left. They are all conservatives. They went to various states, including Colorado. That is why California is the basket case it is. Most of those who left were conservatives. There are few remaining to stop them, and they can't as they are not enough. The lunatics are truly running the California asylum. It's sad because I really loved Ca. The climate is perfect, the scenery is impeccable and varied (mountains, ocean, desert, etc.). The only thing I would like to bring here from Ca is Prop 13.