Flagstaff And Boulder County Set An Example On Proactive Climate Action

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An initiative between two regions in the US is showing how teams can start small and work their way up together to contribute to tackling climate change and reducing emissions. The liberal city council of Flagstaff, Arizona and Boulder County is teaming up to form a coalition of local governments that they call Four Corners that will pool resources to fund carbon dioxide removal projects in their regions.

Back in 2020, Flagstaff passed a resolution to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, becoming one of the first cities in the country with a climate action plan that included carbon dioxide removal (CDR). 

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A few months after, taking an action on climate passed beyond the borders of Flagstaff, resonating with Susie Strife – the director of sustainability in Boulder County, Colorado. She heard about Ramon Alatorre, Flagstaff’s climate and energy coordinator’s initiative, and got in touch. 

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Mrs. Strife was working on starting a carbon program for the county so she teamed up with Alatorrre to help grow the carbon removal industry. While running the initiative, they also decided to give local communities a say which one of the carbon removal projects to be deployed as most of them are still nascent and there are risks and tradeoffs involved with them.

“If we’re not involved, we’re sort of at the mercy of whatever those that are involved are putting in place as their guardrails, or their parameters,” commented Alatorre on his motivation.

The coalition will issue its first request for proposals for carbon removal projects later this summer. The projects will involve capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it in concrete, or the potential to take wood debris from overgrown forests and turn it into biochar.

“Concrete is incredibly distributed, there are concrete producers in pretty much every single community… So if you were to have that be what you build our sidewalks with, that could be really interesting,” said Alatorre.

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Some researchers are also putting the idea that carbon removal should eventually be a public service, like waste removal, and fully owned and operated by communities. The service could be a source of paying jobs for the community and ensure it is done in the public interest, in a way that is most beneficial to communities. 

One concern of Toly Rinberg, a doctoral physics student at Harvard University studying carbon removal, is that if CDR projects are owned by private companies, the incentives will be purely about profit, and not about looking out for public health or local economies. 

One of the main goals of Alatorre and Strife is to spread the word about carbon removal projects at the local level which would help build more support for the sector from the ground up. “We are talking to people who are part of our community and asking what their concerns are, and educating our constituents about it who might be skeptical,” said Strife.

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The initial goal of the Four Corners coalition is to start small and commit at least $300,000 at the beginning. In the one-page mission statement is included the target of raising $1.25 million to support the removal of 2,500 metric tons of CO2.

Boulder county plans to use funds from its sustainability tax, a program that diverts a portion of sales tax in the county toward sustainability programs to finance projects. Flagstaff’s sustainability department is contributing funding it received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the COVID-19 stimulus package that Congress passed in March 2021.

The coalition between the two regions will aim to not only reduce emissions but also make catalyzing change more visible to the local communities. The more aware people are of climate change solutions and the more climate action they witness, the bigger the chances they will become widespread and implemented.

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