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Failing to meet a 7 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, Boulder now aims for 80

Embracing its unofficial slogan “think globally, act locally,” green-minded Boulder, Colo., is considering a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The city is undaunted by the fact that it failed to cut emissions by a much more modest 7 percent by 2012.

Hitting the 80 percent reduction goal would mean drastically increasing the amount of renewable energy the city uses or — without changing the energy supply — requiring residents to cut home energy consumption by 80 percent and cutting the average number of miles driven in a gasoline-powered car from 20 to four by 2050.

But during a city council study session Tuesday, Senior Environmental Planner Brett KenCairn said the best way to go would be to add renewable energy to the power grid, both to meet the audacious new goals and to create jobs.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do morally and ethically,” he’s quoted as saying in the Daily Camera. “It’s actually the most powerful economic engine we could engage our community in to position ourselves for the future. The path to austerity is if we stay tied to carbon energy. The future is very bright with renewable energy.”

But the city admitted in a staff memo reported in the Camera that accomplishing the goal will require “an unprecedented level of action.”

“Accomplishing a goal of this magnitude will require very significant changes — both locally and regionally/nationally — from a high-carbon-based economic and social system to a low-carbon one,” the memo said.

Whether the goal is achievable or not is another question.

Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research told the newspaper that the numbers and analyses in a city report about the goals are just “decoration.”

“The report shows a fair degree of hope winning out over experience,” Pielke is quoted as saying. “Achieving existing climate goals in Boulder has not fared so well. Why would anyone think that these challenges will go away now?”

Boulder is following the lead of Portland, Ore., which has adopted a similar plan. And at the study session, city council members also weighed the option of going entirely carbon neutral, as Seattle hopes to do.

Boulder failed to meet the Kyoto Protocol goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. That effort relied heavily on trying to get electricity customers to voluntarily reduce their consumption.

The key to hitting the new goal, Ken Cairn told the Daily Camera, is by making the switch from coal to renewable energy.

“How can this goal be achieved when the prior goal was not?” he said. “Part of that is that we learned a lot more about how to have an impact, but also that we simply have to change our energy sources. That’s an undeniable conclusion that we’re reaching.”

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