by Ben McDonald
Eight days before the announcement of President Trump’s executive orders effectively unravelling climate change policy implemented under the Obama Administration, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson took the stage at her first State of the City address and set a target for Duluth’s future carbon emission — an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
Following a series of applause, Mayor Larson set a goal for her first term in office.
“I’m setting a goal of 15 percent reduction in municipal emissions for my first term, which is ambitious,” Larson said. “But our times require it.”
The 80 percent target comes from The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance’s (CNCA) 80X50 plan which has been adopted by major cities around the world including New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Berlin, and now Duluth, MN. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the 80X50 is “the most aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction plan currently in practice.”
So what does this mean for Duluth? What kind of changes could we see in the pursuit of 80X50? The short answer — no one knows exactly.
“80X50 isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to long-term deep carbon reduction,” Melanie Dobbs, a charter member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) fellowship said. “Instead, it’s more of template or a set of guidelines that cities can use to develop effective carbon reduction plans.”
The major components of 80X50 involve targeting four key carbon emitting systems: energy supply, building energy efficiency, transportation, and solid waste.
With these systems considered, what are some possible changes Duluth could experience in the future to move us closer our end goal of 80X50?
When we consider the chart below looking at the percentage of GHG emissions by sector in Duluth (visual learners FTW) what we see is a whole lot of blue which represents the largest provider of heat for Duluth; Duluth Energy System’s steam plant.
By way of the carbon emitting heavy process of coal combustion, the steam plant provides 165 buildings in Canal Park and the Downtown Duluth with heat.
Investing in decarbonizing building heating systems is a key strategy in 80X50’s system-change architecture, said a Duluth Energy System representative. It could be carried out via fuel switching to natural gas or biomass. The plan could have potential for major reductions in overall operational GHG emissions.
Mentioned in Mayor Larson’s address, transportation has been a lingering issue in Duluth, harming both citizens as well as the environment. Steps are already being made to improve the transportation system in the city. Earlier this week, the Duluth City Council passed an ordinance that will bring ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft to Duluth. Also be on the look for Canal Park’s first electric car charger which is set to be installed within the year.
Another strategy that both Mayor Larson and the CNCA have discussed is increasing the cost of driving in certain areas. Areas like Canal Park and Downtown Duluth could both see new parking pricing models instituted that are designed to deter driving and promote non-vehicle modes of transportation.
Add to this, the planned expansion of the DTA routes now extending to the underserved Lincoln Park area and Duluth finds its transportation landscape rapidly changing.
Protecting Lake Superior
A recent study found that roughly 1 in 10 children born in the Lake Superior area has unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. A horrifying revelation for a parent, like Duluth native and avid beachgoer Linda Schlacks. “It’s honestly depressing,” Schlacks said. “I love taking my kids to the beach in the summer and my husband will take them fishing on the lakes and rivers around here, but I feel like I’m almost putting my kids in danger.”
Mercury levels are another issue Mayor Larson discussed in her address. Larson, along with organizations dedicated to protecting the areas greatest natural resource, mandates regarding waste prevention and redesigning waste hauling could soon be on the docket.
With goals and sights set on the future, Duluth joins an international coalition that are taking the initiative to combat GHG emissions. They announce their fight in what seems to be a critical stage in the environmental battles embroiling our country and the world. Accomplishing the 80X50 challenge will be no easy feat considering the unique challenges Duluth and its surrounding areas face, but these challenges are met by citizens who have been surrounded by appreciation for the environment. What is the fate of our beloved Lake Superior? I guess we’ll find out in 2050.