It’s no surprise that local environmental advocates support initiatives to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, the city of Eau Claire has the pro-green community’s backing as it moves ahead with recommendations made by the city’s own Sustainability Advisory Committee to promote cleaner and environmentally-friendly living.
A report presented to City Council during its Jan. 8 meeting recommended goals to better align Eau Claire with the Paris Climate Agreement, a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit temperature increases, all while promoting sustainable development.
Although the U.S. withdrew from the climate agreement in 2017, the city’s associate planner Ned Noel said in his presentation that cities can take up their own efforts to reduce the greenhouse gases since they contribute to emissions.
Jeremy Gragert, an independent contractor for environmental group Clean Wisconsin, said cities are responsible now for developing cleaner initiatives in the absence of federal participation in the agreement.
“Cities have a unique opportunity because we have a close relationship with each other,” said Gragert, a City Council candidate in the April 3 election. “We have a lot of intensive industries. We really have to step up more strongly than maybe a rural area is capable of doing.”
Similar to Gragert, responses from other community members favored a stark and aggressive approach to better environmental practices.
Crispin Pierce, a UW-Eau Claire associate professor of environmental public health and member of the sustainability committee, linked mosquito and tick-borne diseases to climate change while addressing the council Monday and said the last 25 years have seen 10 times as many Lyme disease cases.
“So we are experiencing the effects of climate change now, and that’s why I think it’s so important that we consider this together as a municipality,” he said.
Some of the goals that the city is considering:
• Track greenhouse gas emissions each year and use 2015 as a baseline.
• Make the community and municipality carbon neutral by 2050.
• Pursue using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
• Develop an action plan with other stakeholders in 2018.
“The goals are very bold and worthwhile,” Pierce said.
Jim Boulter, associate professor of chemistry at UW-Eau Claire, thanked the City Council for showing leadership in the community by passing a resolution in June which authorized the sustainability committee to come up with the recommendations.
He urged the council to partner with UW-Eau Claire when developing an action plan, as the university has begun to draft its own, he said.
“We’re looking at a similar target to the recommendations that the SAC has put forward to this group,” he told the council.
Boulter said as organizations and businesses can share sustainability goals and collaborate on them, “then I think we have a real shot at this.”
Mark Ruddy, president of the steering committee of the East Side Hill Neighborhood Association, told the council to be aggressive in its efforts to follow the Paris Climate Agreement.
“What we need is to change the trajectory of our climate and do many things we should have done yesterday,” he said.
-Elizabeth Dohms, reporter