Climate change is the most difficult challenge humans have ever faced. The scale of the problem defies our comprehension. Potential solutions often seem messy or defy powerful institutions. Our individual contributions seem both impossible to avoid and miniscule. Quite simply, our brains aren't designed to deal with a challenge so large, complex and diffuse.
Perhaps then, it’s best to stop thinking about climate change as a single problem, and instead start thinking about it is as the new reality that touches all areas of our lives.
What do I mean by this exactly? When we think of climate change as an isolated problem, we are tempted to look for a single solution. If only we enacted a certain law, or invested more in a certain technology, we’d be saved.
An analogy is a doctor prescribing a pill to lose weight. Once the solution is found the problem can be forgotten (as well as its root causes). But this doesn’t accurately reflect the nature of the challenge. Based on what we know from the scientists, economists, and policy analysts, no single action at any level will “solve” climate change. We will have to employ a wide variety of strategies in order to drastically and rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades. To continue the health analogy, our prescription is a complete overhaul of our lifestyle for the rest of our lives — not some silver bullet.
Because the causes of climate change and its impacts are so wide-reaching and long term, we need think about solutions on a systems level and on a long-term scale. Let’s think about where we want our community to be in 30 years and plan accordingly.
We’ve got our work cut out for us, but I’m hopeful. From what I’ve seen in Goshen this past month — the strong community values and so many individuals taking action — I believe we’re up to the challenge. And many of our fellow Hoosiers are waking up to this challenge as well. A recent survey found that 80 percent of Hoosiers recognize that climate change is happening. You don’t have to be a climate scientist to see the local impacts — the record-breaking flooding and absurd amount of rainfall this spring.
Recognizing the reality of climate change is an important first step, but it must be followed by meaningful action. The good news is that Goshen is taking the first critical steps in taking responsibility for its contribution to climate change, committing to carbon neutrality — that is, zero GHG emissions.
I’m working for the city this summer collecting data on Goshen’s GHG emissions so that we can take informed action can to reduce them. Importantly, I have colleagues in 13 other Indiana doing the same thing. By the end of the summer, the six largest cities in Indiana will all have an inventory of their GHG emissions. Seventy percent of global GHG emissions occur in cities, so collective local action can actually make a major impact.
What does action look like for Goshen? We’ll have a much better idea once the emissions inventory is finished, but we still have some idea based on regional and local trends.
The two main places were Goshen can act are in the electricity and transportation sectors. We’re fortunate that NIPSCO, Goshen’s electric utility, has one of the most aggressive plans in the region to transition to clean energy. According to their long-term planning required by the state government, NIPSCO will be coal free in less than 10 years. This will greatly decrease the carbon intensity of our electricity supply. However, around 25 percent of our electricity will still come from natural gas (which is also a potent GHG). We should continue to increase both energy efficiency measures alongside local clean energy, such as rooftop solar.
Reducing our emissions in the transportation sector will be more difficult, but it is just as important. Goshen’s recent acquisition of control of Main Street from the state represents a golden opportunity to reimagine what kinds of transportation options are prioritized downtown. Based on city planning and climate policy expertise, a multimodal system that prioritizes transit, biking and walking can drastically reduce emissions and also have a considerable economic benefits. For instance, Main Street could be transformed into a boulevard with greenspace and more trees, outdoor seating and space for pop-up shops or markets.
Yet our approach to transportation must be multi-pronged. While we want to encourage as many people as possible to walk, bike or take the bus, not everyone is able to or wants to. Thus, we must also transition to electric vehicles to pair with an electric grid that is getting cleaner every year. This shift is both essential to meeting our climate goals and inevitable as the industry transitions. GM, for example, has announced they will release 20 new fully electric vehicle models in less than five years.
I encourage you to stay tuned and engage in this process. Before the end of the summer, the results of the inventory will be presented before the city council. If climate change, and the world that our kids inherit, is important to you then let the council know. Write a letter, make a comment at a public forum, and take personal action.
Some of the most effective actions you can take personally are simply talking about climate change with your friends and family and exploring energy efficiency improvements to your home through an energy audit. NIPSCO will perform this for free, and you can quickly schedule an appointment on their website. If you’ve made it this far in the column, I challenge you to talk about it with someone you know and go ahead and sign up for an energy audit today. Odds are you’ll end up saving a lot of money in the process
Goshen can be a shining example of what taking responsibility for climate change at the local level looks like. This journey is only beginning, and we’ll need you on board, working together as a community to shape the future of The Maple City.
Bronson Bast is a Master of Public Affairs and Master of Environmental Science candidate at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington. This summer he is working as the Environmental Resiliency Extern for City of Goshen through the Indiana Sustainable Development Program to create a greenhouse gas inventory for local government operations and for the community.