What if we only had one year to make a rapid transition to a clean energy economy? What if we had only one year’s supply of fossil fuels left? What would you do?
This is the question that the Mayor of Des Moines, Frank Cownie, posed to municipal leaders from all over Iowa at the Energy Futures conference this weekend. Mayor Cownie has made tackling global warming and transitioning to clean energy a priority for his time as Mayor, and was the first mayor in Iowa to sign the Mayor’s Climate Protection agreement. The idea behind the conference was that we have solutions to reduce and transform our energy use right now and we can do it on the local level. We don’t need to wait for federal or even state government to make remarkable strides forward.
The attendees (including a few of the ReEnergize Iowa team) at the conference split into focus groups to brainstorm what we could do, what was preferable and what we could implement within a year regarding: transportation, residential development, commercial/industrial sectors, schools and hospitals, food security, emergency contingency planning, lifestyle changes, recycling/waste management and sustainability curriculum. Because we were working with a one year timeline, this excluded the dependence on state or national legislation and the development of large-scale renewable energy development (and yes, steered the conversation away from nuclear).
The goal for the conference was to develop a clean energy master plan that can be implemented in 2008 in towns and cities across Iowa and a sustainability curriculum that can be applied to K-12 education nationwide.
The challenge for this conference was that we only had a day to discuss and plan for a year. What came out of the conference was less of a roadmap than was hoped for, but was still useful. However, it fostered the creativity of folks from all different backgrounds and professions. The conference instilled in us the idea that we can change the way we use energy, we can do it now, all we have to do is make that change a priority.
I know a lot of us in the climate movement have been focusing on the message that we need to reduce our emissions by at least 80% by 2050, which is indeed what we need. But this message loses the sense of urgency that we can and must take action now. This conference highlighted a great number of small scale solutions that can be done now and inspired the folks of Iowa to think outside of the box. So I pose the question to you: if your city had only one year to make a rapid transition to a clean energy future, what would you do?