Less driving, more-efficient buildings, and more looking out for each other are necessary steps if Saint Paul is going to effectively counter climate change, the city’s chief resilience officer told District 10’s Environment Committee this week. Russ Stark, who used to represent Ward 4 in the City Council, said the impacts of climate change on Saint Paul are not hard to spot.
- Average precipitation has increased 7 inches a year since the 1950s, he said. We experience that in larger downpours, more wet basements, more tree damage, and more-frequent flooding along the Mississippi River. This year, for example, the Mississippi was at flood stage for the longest period in recorded history.
- The average winter temperature in Saint Paul increased 6 degrees Fahrenheit between 1951 and 2010. That means more freeze-thaw cycles – and more potholes, for example.
Potholes, damaged trees, and flood cleanup are more than nuisances, Stark said; they also put multimillion dents in the city budget – and property taxes.
Toward carbon neutrality
Outlining ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change on city residents are goals in the first draft of the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan. The plan hopes to guide Saint Paul toward being carbon neutral by 2050. Stark is taking feedback until July 5, before issuing a revised draft.
The first draft identifies steps that get the city 70 percent of the way. The hardest part, Stark said, will be getting emissions down far enough fast enough in the next 10-12 years.
Although individuals can change behaviors, “the real change needs to be at the system and policy level,” Stark said. More than 40 percent of emissions are from buildings. So, constructing or retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient has the biggest impact, he said, because it means never using energy in the first place. Similarly, converting to renewable energy sources from fossil fuels is most effective at industrial scale, he said.
Drive less, take the bus (or bike or sidewalk) more
The biggest change individuals can make is to drive less, he said. Even there, government policies can make or break individual decisions. For example, more people are more likely to use public transportation more often if transit routes are more useful and have more frequent service, Stark said. Light rail and routes such as the A Line on Snelling Ave. prove that point.
Moving forward, Stark said, the Metropolitan Council has to be persuaded both to create more high-frequency routes and to convert other routes to A Line-level service. Route 3 – which travels through District 10 along Como Ave. and Energy Park Drive, and connects both downtowns and both University of Minnesota campuses — is among routes Stark said should be prime candidates.
In addition to making public transit service more attractive, the city needs to promote higher density development (which can make public transportation more viable), and make it possible to layer on additional transportation and mobility options, such as safer bike and pedestrian routes and sharing-economy options, whether that be on-demand vehicles or electric scooters.
Who suffers the most
The draft plan also maps out which neighborhoods have the highest risks of suffering from climate change – based on a range of factors including demographics, poverty levels, tree canopy, air quality, and susceptibility to flooding. None of District 10 is seen as at high risk; most of the neighborhood is perceived as low or very low risk.
“One way to become more resilient is to know our neighbors better,” Stark said. He promotes that communities create a “buddy system” that focuses on looking after our most vulnerable neighbors, such as elders, young children, and households who lack air conditioning.
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