Impact: Longmont

The thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of the columnist and may not necessarily be shared by the Longmont Observer. Additionally, Marcia Martin is writing this column as a resident of Longmont, not as a representative of the Longmont City Council.

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Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes
photo by Manigandan Swaminathan ; Creative Commons

Wounded, in the back of the Jeep

Who can forget that iconic chase scene from the original 1993 film Jurassic Park, when a maimed Dr. Ian Malcom reclined helplessly in the back of a laboring Jeep, murmuring “must go faster…” with a hungry T Rex in hot pursuit? It’s an apt metaphor for the state of civilization today, as the Climate Change monster gains on us while we ineptly plan on going faster to address it – later.

Just look at what came out of the Colorado legislature last session. A lot of climate bills, yes, but, unlike that T Rex, not with so many teeth. Take House Bill 1261, “Climate Action Bill to Reduce Pollution.” It is an aspirational bill, setting goals to reduce Colorado’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but not specifying how it will be done. And, though the goals aren’t easy, it can also be argued that they are insufficient for Colorado to do its part in arresting climate change.

Most of the world’s greenhouse gas reduction goals are expressed in terms of the total emissions in the year 2005. HB19-1261 sets Colorado’s goal for maximum GHG emissions in 2030 to be 50% less than they were in 2005.

Now, in 2005, Colorado contributed the equivalent of approximately 123 million metric tons CO2 to the atmosphere. [That metric, by the way, is written MMTCO2e, and it means the sum of all greenhouse gases emitted, adjusted so that the cumulative greenhouse effect is the same as if all the emissions were actually CO2, instead of the real mix of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and other trace gases.]

Let’s look at what HB19-1261 is asking for. Let’s do the math:

Total Emissions in 2005 (MMTCO2e)   123
  Minus 50% (rounding up) 62
HB19-1261’s goal for emissions in 2030 = 61
     
Total Emissions in 1990 (MMTCo2e)   81
 Minus 25% (for the sake of comparison) 20
HB19-1261’s goal for emissions in 2030 (surprise!) = 61
     
Total Emissions today (2020 projected)   130
  Minus reduction needed to get to 61 MMTCO2e 69
Equals our goal for 2030 (again!) = 61
     
Expressed as a percentage reduction from now % 53%

This little math exercise shows us that Colorado must reduce present-day emissions from all sources by 53% from what they are today, by the year 2030, in order to meet the goal set in HB19-1261. How hard will that be?

How can Colorado comply with HB19-1261?

Figure 1 below tells us that the goal of reaching 61 MMTCO2e in GHG emissions by 2030 means 25% less than emissions were in 1990, the first year for which we have data. In 1990, renewable energy hadn’t really taken off, and automobiles were less fuel-efficient. But there were about 20% fewer vehicles on the road. Also, the fracking boom was just taking off, so the methane leakage from Colorado’s oil wells was not a big factor. How much will things have to change to meet this goal?

Figure 1 also tells us where we can look to find potential GHG mitigations. Here are some hypotheticals, with estimates of the resulting reductions in GHG emissions in MMTCO2e.

Get all electricity from renewable sources by 2030   38
Cut vehicle emissions from gasoline, diesel, etc. by 1/3   14
Begin reducing use of natural gas as a fuel   9
    61

That doesn’t look so bad, does it? After all, Longmont has already committed to achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030, right? Yes, but Longmont and the PRPA service area are only responsible for a fraction of the electricity Colorado uses. The biggest supplier is Xcel, which so far has not committed to be carbon-free before 2050.

The trouble with limiting GHG emissions through reducing vehicle emissions and the use of natural gas as fuel is the lifetime of the appliances. According to Consumer Reports, the average life expectancy of a new internal-combustion vehicle is 8 years, with 15 years not being unusual for some models. A gas hot-water heater will last 15 years or longer, and a gas furnace 20 years or more. 2030 is only 10 years away, so a large percentage of the GHG-polluting appliances around today will still be in use by 2030. Colorado has to make big changes to meet this goal.

Colorado historic and projected Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Metric Tons CO2 Equivalent

Doing Our Part in Longmont

Longmont is already setting an example for the State of Colorado. We were the first city in the Platte River Power Authority (the nonprofit Generation and Transmission company that supplies our electricity) to demand 100% carbon-free electricity by 2030. With determined activism from groups like Northern Colorado Partners for Clean Energy, the other PRPA owner cities followed suit, and PRPA is now committed to the 100% renewable transition. What Longmont set in motion may be the biggest active change in energy policy so far in Colorado.

We’re doing some other things, too, that will help. The City of Longmont has a policy for its own fleet of vehicles, that whenever anything wears out, the city may purchase a gasoline-burning replacement only if no electric substitute that meets the vehicle’s job requirements can be found.

Right now, the city is installing sophisticated air quality monitoring equipment at Union Reservoir that we hope will prove that the pollutants that make our air quality so poor are coming from the oil and gas fields in Weld County. Good data on this score will help us force Colorado to regulate the extraction industry more stringently – and that means reducing GHG emissions.

But Longmont still has lots of work to do. We have a Sustainability Plan, but it’s in need of an update. The current plan actually will give consumers rebates to replace a gas water heater with – wait for it – a more energy-efficient gas water heater that will burn methane for 15 more years. Our electric rates don’t encourage people to install rooftop solar panels or buy electric vehicles. We don’t give incentives to builders for all-electric subdivisions. All these policies date back to before HB19-1261, and before the blockbuster 2018 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told us that we are running out of time to arrest global warming. Now we must go faster.

Longmont needs to mobilize – every single resident and every aspect and function of our local government must make reducing emissions a priority. Because it is here, at ground zero, that the needed changes will be made. States can make policies like HB12-1261, but it is municipalities and corporations that will put them into effect. Maybe in 2020 we’ll have a miracle at the Federal level and we’ll get more support in our efforts. But make no mistake – the efforts, and their failure or success in saving this planet for our grandchildren – will be ours.

In coming weeks, Impact: Longmont will explore how we can make a difference with local climate policy and a committed community. Support your city and this publication in our race to outrun the monster. As Ian Malcom warned us back in 1993, life will find a way. We’re alive, and this time we know what monster pursues us. This time, it’s our turn to find the way.

This is an opinion piece that was submitted to the Longmont Observer. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Longmont Observer. The Longmont Observer does not edit, nor spell check, opinion pieces submitted to us. If you have an opinion piece you'd like published, please visit our 'Submit an Opinion' page.

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