Working towards peace and sustainability

Support the CoMo CAAP/Responses to Critics

On Monday, June 17 the Columbia City Council will take an historic vote, hopefully adopting the Columbia Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). Peaceworks encourages members and supporters to attend the Council meeting that evening and to contact your councilperson and the mayor prior to the meeting to share your thoughts on the CAAP.

So far most reactions to the CAAP have been positive and we are hopeful that the Plan will be passed unanimously. We have heard a very modest number of objections or concerns. We’d like to respond to those concerns, but first a little on what the CAAP is and what it is not.

Columbia’s CAAP is a general roadmap to a carbon-neutral future. Drafted as the result of a two-year process with ample opportunities for public input, the plan lays out many steps and broader strategies to achieve net carbon neutrality for the community at large by 2060 and net carbon neutrality for city operations by 2050. The CAAP includes interim targets for the community of reductions from a 2015 baseline of 35 percent by 2035 and 80 percent by 2050. It also calls for a 50 percent reduction in emissions from city operations by 2035.

The CAAP includes sections dealing with energy, housing, transportation, waste, health/safety and natural resources. It includes what are considered Cross-Cutting Strategies and Actions, as well as Sector Specific Strategies and Actions. We encourage everyone to access the CAAP draft on-line.

The CAAP does not enact the needed changes, but rather lays out a general path to get from here to there. Any changes that would be made in city operations or requirements (e.g. changes in building codes, W&L operations, mass transit, etc.) would be done at a later date with input from citizens and action by the Council required.

Framers of the CAAP have done extensive research as to our current situation here in CoMo and also have looked closely to see what other cities have done. The result is a very deliberate, flexible and incremental approach. Some may fault the CAAP for not being ambitious enough, but, given the magnitude of the crisis we face, few would think it too bold.

This said, there are some critics, and some of the concerns they’re raising are due to misinformation or misinterpretation of the facts. So, let us respond:

Climate Change is Real and a Very Real Threat:  There is a broad, international scientific consensus based upon both an understanding of physics and the analysis of data scientifically collected, that the planet is warming and, with this warming is coming significant climatic changes including more extreme weather events (super storms, floods, droughts, etc.) that are causing serious dislocation, damages, crop failures, fires, loss of human life and limb, loss of habitat, species extinction, climate refugees, etc.

Those who deny the reality of these readily observable phenomena are disputing the conclusions reached by virtually every major scientific organization here in the U.S. and around the world, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They are also denying the conclusions of the National Climate Assessment conducted under the Trump administration.

How Much Warming: Some critics have made claims that we don’t have to worry (or take action) because the world is actually cooling. There is no basis for these claims.  While the National Climate Assessment projects the average increase in temperature by the year 2100 range from 1.5-4.5 degrees Celsius (2.7-8.1 degrees Fahrenheit), the former assumes that immediate and bold action is taken to limit and eliminate emissions, while the latter assumes business as usual.

The implications of the high-end scenarios are truly unthinkable, and it is therefore incumbent upon us in Columbia to join people of conscience everywhere who are taking action to effectively address the crisis.
The Cost of the CAAP:  A major objection raised by CAAP opponents is that effective climate action will be costly. There are two major flaws in these assertions. First of all, they fail to recognize that many of the actions the CAAP calls for will have both costs and savings.

For example, if a house, apartment or other structure has an energy efficiency upgrade, there will be an initial cost and then there will be significant savings in future utility costs, as it will take less energy to heat, cool and otherwise operate the building. Most retrofits pay back the investment in six years or less, which means a 16 percent or better annual return on the investment. And these upgrades generally continue to return such savings for decades to come, long after the initial investment is repaid.

The other flaw is the failure to recognize the existence of very significant costs attributable to our use of fossil fuels that are currently “externalized.” Cost externalities are generally recognized by economists as a major source of market failure. These are costs that are real, but are not included in the prices we pay.

In this case burning fossil fuels pollutes our air and water, significantly impacts the health of our population, and alters our climate, all of which lead to serious costs to society, both today and in the future. But these costs are not currently incorporated into the price of the fuels we purchase. The costs of actions called for in the CAAP will be, in general, more than offset by savings to society at large.

The bottom line on cost is yes, it will cost to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but it will cost even more not to take effective action now.

Costs & Benefits of Home Energy Upgrades:  Some have raised concerns about the cost impact of weatherization and other home energy improvements. According to the Missouri Division of Energy in the Department of Economic Development, following weatherization improvements to a home, on average the occupant will save $435 annually on their energy bills. Additionally, a study done by the C40 association of cities found that even the lowest income quintile was able to increase their disposable income (income after taxes) by 3.1 percent after energy efficiency improvements to their residence.  

Solar and Wind:  Opponents question whether we can meet our energy needs relying primarily on solar and wind power. There is a natural variation in the availability and intensity of these sources, but these are predictable, and, through a combination of wheeling power over the grid, installing storage, and load shifting, we can have a 100 percent renewable electric utility within the CAAP timeline.

Cost of Renewables:  Some opponents have asserted that renewable energy is too expensive. While we understand concerns about costs, the trends are all pointing in favor of renewables. In an article published in Forbes on May 29, 2019, it was reported that “The cost of renewable energy has tumbled even further over the past year, to the point where almost every source of green energy can now compete on cost with oil, coal and gas-fired power plants, according to new data released today.” The article references a study Renewable Power Generation Costs, released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an inter-governmental body with around 160 members.

Some opponents have cited studies that looked at past costs, but these costs have declined significantly. Columbia Water and Light is already paying significantly less for renewables than it did previously. Purchased wind power is costing our utility less than half the price of coal-generated purchased power, while solar is marginally cheaper than coal, but has the price locked in for 30 years, with no fuel costs.

Wind and Birds:  Some opponents of wind power have raised concerns regarding bird deaths from wind turbines. Of course, no one wants to see birds killed. The number of birds killed by wind generators, however, isdwarfed by those killed by cats, by moving vehicles, by birds flying into buildings and even by conventional power plants. If properly sited, wind generation is not a serious threat to birds, while climate change most definitely is. That’s why many conservation organizations, including most prominently the Audubon Society, which are deeply concerned about birds, are also strong supporters of wind-generated power.

Electric Vehicles:  Some opponents have pointed out that switching to electric vehicles will increase demand for electricity making a renewable energy future much more difficult to attain. What they fail to recognize is that savings from efficiency improvements will offset much of the increased transportation sector demand. Shifting from gasoline and diesel-fueled vehicles to EVs should not require any further reduction in demand for electricity from existing uses. If more electricity is needed, we will simply have to be purchasing more power from wind or solar generation to meet the vehicular demand.

Two pieces of good news: First, the cost of running an EV is a lot less than the cost of using gasoline or diesel. Second, our cars will be able to charge their batteries at times when power is readily available. This can be done overnight, using abundant wind at a time when other uses are low. It also can be done during the day while we’re at work, using solar power available to vehicles charging up in parking lots at our workplaces.

Roll Carts: While some are concerned about roll carts, which were mentioned as a possible option in the original draft. The proposal to use roll carts has been removed from the CAAP.

In closing we would like to thank our Mayor and City Council for having the vision to recognize the urgency of addressing climate change, as well as thank all on the city staff, the Mayor’s Task Force and all members of the public who participated in the process of drafting the CoMo CAAP. We look forward to its adoption and implementation.
Mayor's Climate Action & Adaptation Task Force. We thank them for their hard work to make the CAAP a reality.