Letter to the editor: The Iowa City climate plan is a joke — so revamp it now

  • 222

Climate change was a common topic during Sen. Joni Ernst’s town hall at Coe College. Friday, March 17, 2017. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

By Jeff Biggers

Iowa City’s recycling and composting program, thanks to environmental wizard Jennifer Jordan, the city’s amazing resource management superintendent, has been making solid gains in dealing with CO2 and methane emissions.

Iowa City, in fact, is endowed with so many sustainability leaders and climate change experts — like architect and energy efficiency guru Martha Norbeck, who has built carbon neutral homes, biodiversity Prof. Liz Maas at Kirkwood, local farm and food advocates like Michelle Kenyon, Ayman Sharif, Shanti Sellz and hundreds others, and nationally recognized solar energy companies like Tim Dwight and Moxie Solar. The 100 Grannies are chock-full of ideas. The list of local experts is endless.

So, why is IC’s Climate Action Plan such a joke — called a “community failure” by its own committee members — if progressive Iowa City cares about leading on climate action?

When the IPCC calls for all cities to cut CO2 emissions by 45 percent within a decade — and reach zero emissions by 2050 — just to survive, why does IC’s lackluster plan rely 95 percent on MidAmerican and the U of Iowa to do all of the heavy lifting, and sets low benchmarks that are far behind cities like Dubuque?

Short answer: No leadership. No sense of urgency. No chutzpah. Come on, Hawkeyes.

The Iowa City council desperately needs to do three things: 1) Ask the town’s climate experts like Norbeck and Maas to revamp the Climate Action Plan to met IPCC standards; 2) Require the city manager and staff to do climate change trainings; and 3) Hire Cedar Rapids sustainability coordinator Eric Holthaus, the former wunderkind of recycling at the U of Iowa, to lead the city plan with zero waste expert Jennifer Jordan.

No more excuses, as the IC student climate strikers say.

The city council in the little burg of New York City passed a climate action plan last week, which sets caps on carbon emissions for buildings, as part of an overall requirement to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Among a host of ordinances, incentives and initiatives, failure to carry out these plans will result in fines.

The New York City Council is serious about the urgency of climate change. And they passed an ambitious Climate Mobilization Act last week, including a transportation clean overall, mandatory green roofs and renewable energy, that steps up to the challenge issued by the IPCC group of global scientists last fall to avert impending climate chaos.

New York City is not alone — hundreds of cities have committed to 100 renewable energy and strict energy efficiency targets, massive clean transportation and infrastructure investments, ambitious local food and zero waste ordinances, huge tree planting and soil carbon sequestration initiatives, and green enterprise and green job incubators to jump-start new innovations.

It’s time for Iowa City to act on climate change, as if our future depends on it. Because it does.

  • 222


  1. Great ideas. How are these communities paying for the upfront costs of these improvements? Information on that, plus estimates of the turnaround payback timeframe estimates and those actually realized where this has already been done would help make your case. Did building cost savings cover the initial costs or were rent increases for businesses and housing required? Or were ongoing costs provably lower as demonstrated by actual heating/air conditioning bills, solar, wind energy usage, etc.?

    Presumably building values would increase from the improvements. Has a citywide or other sized TIF been used anywhere? This might be the first known possible justifiable use of a TIF to produce no interest or low interest loans for the improvements, lol.

    There must be studies/information on the cost effectiveness and affordability of doing this. Unfortunately savings on externalities don’t pay the bills for this sort of thing.

    Perhaps city staff have or could obtain this information?

  2. Low or no interest loans for individual homeowners for environmental protection improvements could also be considered.

  3. Would it make sense, as a first step, to determine what is needed to bring the Climate Action Plan up to IPCC standards? Once that step is done we can determine costs and how to approach?

  4. Iowa City does not have to reinvent the wheel. The Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance ( is a collaboration of leading global cities working to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-100% by 2050 or sooner. Check out the CNCA’S PDf, “GAME CHANGERS: Bold Actions by Cities to Accelerate Progress Toward Carbon Neutrality.” It outlines very specifically the steps that Oslo, Vancouver, Boulder, San Francisco, London, Stockholm and others cities are taking to meet the IPCC standards. Tell our city council and staff to stop making excuses and do the right thing as others are doing.

  5. At the Student Strike event on Friday 5/25 at the IC Hall, I heard 13 year old students in tears pleading for their future. They do not have the power to do what needs to be done, but by golly, they have the determination to demand it. They were told these issues are under discussion, and those in charge aren’t sure the community cares enough to back them up. If the City Council will make BOLD & GUTSY steps into a livable future for these kids (and for the other living beings on this planet), this community will use that as a sign to step up and get hopping. “How will we pay for it?” is a timeworn excuse. The Ped Mall revamp must have cost a pretty penny. Will that buy them a future? It’s a matter of priority. The kids are leading – time for those in power to follow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


40 Years Forward:

A Celebration of Empowerment & Hope

Deb Talan of "The Weepies" will begin our night of celebration with a story of survival, empowerment, and hope told through words and song. Join us in remembering our past and envisioning the future at the Coralville Mariott.


Friday, September 20 at 7:30 p.m.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.


A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene


Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

Little Village's

From Aug. 1-Sept. 30, cast your vote for your favorite places, people, eats and entertainment around the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area.

Don't forget to explain your picks! The best answers will be published in LV's Best of the CRANDIC issue, out Dec. 3, 2019.