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Polk County announces drastic energy audit

Photo by Courtney Jackson | Staff Photographer

After months of planning and drafting, the Polk County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution that sets a goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions from county operations by 90% by 2040. 

In the resolution, the board justifies this decision with conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report. These conclusions include findings that human-induced increases in the global surface temperature have caused increased heat extremes, higher sea levels and other unfavorable changes in the climate. The resolution said that based on the report, CO2 emissions must be decreased to prevent warming from surpassing the IPCC’s target of 1.5 degrees Celsius “to avert global catastrophic harm to communities, towns, cities, counties, and nations throughout the world.”

According to Polk County Administrator John Norris, the board plans to achieve the 90% reduction by improving energy efficiency in county facilities and replacing the vehicles used by the sheriff’s department, public works department and other county entities with electric vehicles, among other actions. 

The board’s first act is to partner with an energy audit firm to determine the amount and distribution of the county’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, according to the resolution. Following the audit, a climate action team composed of individuals from various county departments will map out specific emissions targets.

“You start with an assessment and you assemble a team of county employees, but we will also be inviting the public to come and be a part of this and establish our long-term goals,” Norris said.

Norris said that the public will have the opportunity to engage with the newly formed climate action team through meetings in which they can propose their ideas for reducing the county’s energy consumption and carbon footprint.

“We will share information with the public on what our goals are, what our plans are [and] where our benchmarks are for achievement, and as we post those and make those available to the public, hopefully it will encourage others to do the same — both other governmental entities and the private sector,” Norris said.

Even though the board’s jurisdiction — and therefore the impact of the resolution — extends only to county operations, businesses and individuals also have a stake in climate mitigation. According to the Iowa Climate Educators, a state-wide coalition of scientists and educators that analyzes and communicates the impacts of climate change, the frequency of heavy rain events and droughts has increased state-wide. 

“We actually have this dual change, which you see in a lot of places,” said David Courard-Hauri, an environmental science professor at Drake University and a member of the coalition. “We’re seeing more flooding, but we’re also seeing more intense dry periods. Essentially, when it’s wet it’s wetter, and when it’s dry it’s drier.”

Norris and Courard-Hauri noted that on a global scale, individual actions — and even county actions — have little impact when viewed in isolation. However, climate mitigation actions such as the resolution passed by the board shift control to a more local level, which may inspire individuals to decrease their energy consumption and reduce their carbon footprint. Other counties in Iowa may also take note of Polk County’s effort and subsequently pass climate mitigation resolutions of their own.

“Then, individually, the more we see county employees driving around in electric vehicles and we see that they’re functional and sufficient for the kinds of jobs that those people have to do, we might imagine ‘Okay, maybe they’ll work for me too,’” Courard-Hauri said. 

Courard-Hauri said he hopes this allows people to get institutions they are part of to act or to continue with pledges they have already made. 

“I think it all starts with making the decision to take action and lead by example,” Norris said.

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