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UAF Students Propose Guidelines for Fairbanks-area Climate-change Response Plan

KUAC file photo

The Fairbanks North Star Borough does not have a plan to respond to climate change, like the one under consideration by the Anchorage Assembly, which aims to cut the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent within 30 years. But a group of UAF students have come up recommendations on what a Fairbanks-area climate-action plan might look like, and how local leaders could get citizens to buy-in to it.

The 17 UAF students came up with their recommendations after studying Anchorage’s climate-action plan, along with those from four other western U.S. and Canadian cities. Their instructor says the students were impressed by the plans’ ambitious goals – like Vancouver, B.C.’s objectiveto reduce the number of vehicles on the city’s roadways through greater use of public transit, bicycles and pedestrian-friendly urban design.

“They reduced it 50 percent by 2014,” she said, “and they’re continuing to reduce it further.”

Associate professor of resource planning Susan Todd says her students also learned the importance of bold proposals, like San Francisco’s 1990 goal to cut back on the amount of solid waste going into the area’s landfills.

“They reduced their waste stream to the landfill by 80 percent by 2010! That just blew us away!”

Student Kasey Casort is entering her third year as a Natural Resources Management major. And she says the class project helped her understand that in order to get people to back those bold proposals, they must come with a timetable with milestones to ensure progress toward meeting the goal.

“The things that work are things that lofty, but they’re measureable and they’re time-fixed,” Casort said. “So, when they’re writing these goals and these plans, we don’t just think ‘Well, we need to reduce emissions.’ We think we need to reduce emissions by how much, by when.”

Thalia Souza who’s going into her fourth year as a Natural Resources Management major. She says building public support early-on for the plan is essential.

Credit Tim Ellis/KUAC
From left, Thalia Souza, Susan Todd, Kasey Casort

“That’s something we saw lacking in a lot of the plans that we looked at, public engagement,” she said. “Planners make these great plans, they think they have all these great ideas, and then they put it out to the public. And they get rejected. Just torn apart.”

Souza says that’s at the top of the list of recommendations the students submitted to borough officials during Wednesday’s Sustainability Commission meeting.

“One of our biggest recommendations to Fairbanks was involve people from the beginning, and involve them in your planning process,” she said. “Don’t just make a plan and try to shove it down their throats.”

The students say their recommendations are strictly nonpartisan and intended for Fairbanks-area officials who want to put together a local plan in response to a global problem. But environmental advocate and commission member Jimmy Fox says the recommendations also would alleviate the local problem of health-threatening air pollution that sets in on cold winter days.

“The solutions to the (climate) issue are also the same solutions to saving money, creating jobs, having cleaner air,” he said.

Fox says a local climate plan would include for example energy-efficiency recommendations like adding insulation to buildings, which would reduce the amount of heating that’s needed and in turn would save money and help clear the air.

“If you weatherize your home,” he said, “in North Pole, the last time this was done, on average a homeowner would save $2,500 a year on their heating bills.”

Borough spokesperson Lanien Livingston said Wednesday that Mayor Bryce Ward is very interested in the UAF students’ recommendations. She says they’ve already contacted him and e-mailed their findings on climate-change strategies from other cities that might work here.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.