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Alan Northcutt February 23rd Column In Waco Tribune Herald

The following is the unedited column as submitted to the Waco Tribune Herald that was published on February 23rd:


The Waco Tribune-Herald in recent weeks reported on the Go Renewable Waco (GRW) campaign, a citizen-led effort that ultimately resulted in passage of recommendations by the City of Waco Sustainable Resource Practices Advisory Board (Sustainability Board) designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combat anthropogenic climate change.  Although the Trib reports were excellent, they raise multiple important questions.  

Why is a campaign to cut City emissions necessary?   Since climate scientists are in near unanimous agreement that anthropogenic climate change is a global emergency, and since no significant mitigating action is taking place at the federal level, many cities and states have worked diligently to reduce their emissions.  Worldwide, 70% of GHG emissions derive from cities. 

What is Go Renewable Waco?  GRW is a grassroots citizen movement, initiated by the Waco Friends of Peace/Climate, designed to persuade the City of Waco to join some 100 U.S. cities that have pledged to go 100% renewable in energy use by 2050. A petition requesting that the City make this pledge kicked off the campaign.  

Is there support for the pledge in Waco?  Absolutely.  The petition garnered an amazing 1187 signatures of Waco area adults and endorsement by 14 local churches and other civic organizations.   In addition, city-wide support was documented by a 2018 Yale University poll that found a majority of Wacoans request more action by City officials to combat global warming.  
But how widespread is support for 100% renewable energy?  Support is pervasive:  13 states, 155 major corporations including Mars, Inc., 100 universities, 57 countries, and the prestigious U.S. Conference of Mayors champion this goal.

How did the GRW campaign interact with the City?  Over a period of one year, the campaign held a dozen presentations and discussions with City groups of various size, emphasizing the urgency of mitigating climate change, and its benefits. Ultimately, Sustainability Board member and attorney Sarah Brockhaus and I submitted a resolution to the Board, providing justification for the renewable energy pledge and steps for implementation.

Exactly what was approved by the Sustainability Board?  After considerable debate, the Board approved the following recommendations to the City Council, derived from the GRW campaign’s steps for implementation (without the timelines):  conduct efficiency audits of municipal facilities, evaluate strengthening efficiency standards for new construction, consider transition of power purchase agreements  to 100% renewable energy, consider encouraging businesses and residents to purchase renewable energy, evaluate possible city rooftop solar and encourage same for business and residential consumers, replace retiring municipal fleet vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in hybrids when these meet City needs, encourage sustainable practices by citizens and businesses, and consider installation of rapid charging EV stations.

Were these recommendations sufficient?  Although the GRW campaign greatly appreciates the effort of the Sustainability Board to initiate climate change mitigation, we believe that our climate crisis demands more robust action:  when one’s home is on fire, one does not “consider” using a fire hose. The IPCC has reported that if the world does not slash GHG emissions 45% in only 11 years, climate catastrophe will ensue.  Since transportation and power generation are the #1 and #2 sources of U.S. emissions, we recommend immediate action in these sectors.  As City fleet vehicles are retired, they should be replaced with electric vehicles, including cars, buses, and garbage trucks.  Although initial cost may be higher, the lifetime cost of EVs is frequently lower, due to reduced maintenance and fuel costs.  With only 11 years to halve emissions, we believe the City must begin negotiation now for 100% renewable power purchase agreements in 2022.  In addition, the City should immediately obtain proposals for rooftop solar installations on City structures, recognizing that after 8 to 10 years, these photovoltaic systems provide free electricity. 
Is action by the City alone adequate?  Absolutely not.  A zero-carbon economy will require community response in all sectors, including transportation, power, industry, agriculture, cooking, cooling and heating.  And all GHGs must be eliminated, including CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and certain refrigerants.  

What can businesses do?  Waco businesses can also act on the major sources of GHGs by obtaining electricity from all- renewable providers, installing rooftop photovoltaic systems, transitioning all vehicles to EVs, and installing 110 or 220V. power outlets for employee/customer EV charging. 

What about schools?  Schools can execute the same actions as businesses.  As a bonus, the installation of rooftop solar can provide an educational benefit for students interested in environmental science or engineering.  The evolution of busses to electricity power will remove GHGs which endanger the student’s biosphere, while it removes the toxic pollution of diesel powertrains which endanger their heart and lungs. 

What role do individual citizens play?  Some of the most important actions individuals may take include obtaining power from renewable utilities, installing rooftop solar, driving EVs, and decreasing meat and dairy intake.

All sectors wish to help, but isn’t a green economy just too expensive?  Although the renewable revolution may seem costly at first glance, several factors should be kept in mind:
  •  The hidden costs of fossil fuels are typified by burning coal, which includes illness, premature death, and healthcare expenses, totalling $187 billion per year, or 9.3 cents per kWh. (Ann NY Acad Science) 
  • Electricity from renewables will soon be consistently cheaper than from most fossil fuels.” (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2017)
  • Consistently, economic models have shown that the cost to prevent dangerous climate change is a fraction of the cost to pay for the damages of uncontrolled climate change.  
  •  Finally, as parents, we contentedly save thousands of dollars, a decade in advance, to ensure a quality education for our children.  Will we not invest in solar panels and affordable EVs to help preserve a livable planet in which these children may pursue that education?

 Alan D. Northcutt, M.D., is a Waco physician and Director of the Waco Friends of Peace/Climate.     

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