Climate concerns instigate action

A year of research and hard work recently paid off for a group of five UAA students when they presented their proposed climate action plan to Acting Mayor Matt Claman and Chancellor Fran Ulmer.
The Climate Change Action Team (C-Cat) consists of six UAA students from different areas of study who came together to form a climate change action plan for the community.
On February 26, five of those members presented the plan along with a brief description of their individual studies within the research. The plan is an articulation of local public policy about how to respond to climate change and focuses on six areas of concern: outreach and education, city planning, waste management, energy production, energy efficiency and transportation.
“Most communities around the country are developing these plans at the local level,” UAA political science professor Mara Kimmel said.
Kimmel, who was the faculty supervisor of C-CAT along with political science professor Kimberly Pace, said that currently the city of Anchorage does not have a climate change plan. Kimmell and Pace recognized the city’s need for one and decided to develop a policy that would address this need. Through word of mouth, Kimmel and Pace found six students who shared a similar interest.
Last July, the group traveled to two cities that are on the cutting edge of addressing climate change: Tromso, Norway (Anchorage’s sister city) and Tatabanya, Hungary. In each city, they met with government officials and studied each community’s response to the issue of climate change.
Upon their return to Anchorage, the team began drafting their own proposed Climate Action Plan that consisted of six sections- one section for each student.
“We’re hoping it will be a roadmap for the community,” Kimmel said.
Throughout the Fall 2008 semester, the group worked on their research with the help of Randy Virgin, Director of Sustainability for the Municipality of Anchorage. The partnership with the city started last summer and Virgin said the group approached the municipality and really engaged him from the start.
“They didn’t just call us up and say ‘hey, good news, we’re going to do this for you,'” Virgin said. “It was sort of a working relationship from the beginning.”
At the end of the semester, after completing their proposed plan, the team realized that there was still much more to be done. The next step was establishing a carbon baseline assessment for the city. It’s essentially an inventory of the carbon dioxide the city produces and without knowing it, the city cannot set production targets, Virgin said. Basically, the city can only reduce what they measure. A couple of students who were part of the team were hired by the city to create a baseline report.
“They have already been a catalyst moving us towards the goals they envisioned,” Virgin said. “What we really need is a city climate action plan that has had some public process and been approved by the Anchorage assembly.”
Virgin said the next step after the baseline is developed is to create a plan that has support from the public and the Assembly so the city can implement their goals.
“That’s going to be the next challenge for us going forward,” Virgin said.
One of the students currently working with the municipality is UAA senior Marcus Welker. Welker, a natural science major, said he was interested in climate change and sustainability and how it all related to UAA when he served on student government. His focus within the climate action plan was transportation.
“I thought it sounded interesting and intriguing, and so I started trying to make this project happen,” Welker said.
Welker said the study tour was important because during the trip, they learned so much by visiting and talking to people– it was more than just Googling the cities on the internet. Besides assisting the municipality in its quest to become more eco-friendly, the project was beneficial for the students as well.
“I gained another opportunity to travel abroad and see how two other places handle these issues of transportation,” Welker said.
After being presented with the Climate Action Plan, Claman expressed his appreciation to the team and commended their participation as partners and citizens of Anchorage. He also commented on the “budding partnership” between the city and the university and said the team’s work will help the city plan for the future.