Sometime in the not-too-distant future, our children and grandchildren will be asking what we were thinking, or not thinking, when we did not take adequate and timely action to respond to the threat that accelerating climate change posed for human civilization. By then, however, it will be too late to avoid calamity.
Some communities completely ignored the evidence. Some, like Asheville, made very modest attempts to address the problem. Asheville mayors Charles Worley and Terry Bellamy signed the mayors climate change agreement, established the Office of Sustainability in the city government and hired staff to develop and implement carbon reduction goals for city municipal operations.
Most recently, the city worked to develop a 20-year strategic plan, named “Living Asheville: A Comprehensive Plan for Our Future,” which was adopted in June of this year. It is 392 pages of amazing goal-setting in six categories that include “Livable Built Environment,” “Resilient Economy,” “Harmony With the Natural Environment,” “Healthy Community,” “Interwoven Equity” and Responsible Regionalism.” Yet in some fundamental way, there is a blind spot to the fact that, if we continue to use fossil fuels to power the changes that are proposed, the hot world and degraded landscapes will make it impossible to achieve any of the six stated goals because of the general social and environmental chaos that awaits us in a world to which we are not adapted.
The fact is that current carbon-reduction goals have not been met. Sustainability staff finds itself so overworked and undersupported by recent city managers that they were reluctant to support the adoption of the 100 percent renewable resolution that was being proposed by the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and Environment because they didn’t believe that they had the people power to do the work that such a goal demanded. Nevertheless, the SACEE had the wisdom to pass the resolution, which will be voted on by City Council in October.
What we need most from the mayor and Council is visionary, courageous, and determined commitment to the “mission” of making Asheville a real Climate City. Such missionary zeal was historically embodied in NASA’s mission to land an American on the moon. Likewise, Franklin Roosevelt in leading America into the European war to preserve freedom and democracy for us and our European brothers and sisters embodied such missionary zeal.
The most frequent argument that I hear from city staff and Council is that the technology of renewable energy is too expensive currently so not to be cost-effective or that the technology needs to be “more mature” before they invest significant public money into projects.
My suspicion is that, other than Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, the mayor and other Council members have not delved deeply into the science of climate change, nor the economics, risk analysis and social cost/benefit analysis of investing now versus delay in renewable energy. To that end, I have two references for the curious reader. Each of these references were personally delivered to Council members [the first week of September]: The Economic and Social Benefits of Low-Carbon Cities: A Systematic Review of the Evidence and The Race of Our Lives Revisited.
Asheville needs a new city manager who is qualified by experience and commitment to carry out such a mission. And we need Council to provide funds to support funding for a rapid transition to a near-zero carbon economy, or Living Asheville is just words on paper.
— Richard Fireman
Editor’s note: Richard Fireman reports that he’s a retired M.D. and co-founder of Alliance for Energy Democracy, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.