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What does climate change mean for Arkansas?

Arkansas is a resilient state, both environmentally and culturally. We enjoy ample water reserves and many natural resources, including timber and high-quality agricultural soil. We are highly resourceful people with cultural traditions of conservation, creativity and strong communities. Stewardship and conservation are core values that all Arkansans can agree on, no matter where our families came from, how we vote or who we worship. While these amazing resources and values provide us with a solid foundation for success and a sense of state pride, Arkansans know we must be proactive to build a strong future for our state, including taking a proactive approach to climate change.

On the web

Additional information on Fayetteville’s Energy Action Plan can be found at: http://fayetteville-ar.gov/3246/Energy-Action-Plan.

Doesn't climate change mean rising sea levels, melting permafrost and extreme cold? Not likely in Arkansas! Then how will a changing climate affect the Natural State and what does a proactive response to climate change look like?

Before thinking about local impacts and solutions, let's start with a refresher on the reasons our climate is changing. The Earth's atmosphere is made up primarily of nitrogen and oxygen with many other secondary components, including greenhouse gases in small quantities. The atmosphere allows solar radiation from the sun to pass through and hit the earth's surface. Greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, help to retain and reflect some of the heat generated from solar radiation, thereby creating the temperate climate we enjoy on Earth. When the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases, more heat is retained and the earth is warmed like a greenhouse on a sunny day.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere has been steadily rising since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1760's. Concentrations of carbon dioxide varied for the past 650,000 years, but never exceeded 300 parts per million until 1950. By 2013, global carbon dioxide concentrations had surpassed 400 parts per million. Global industrialization and the associated combustion of fossil fuels including coal, oil and natural gas produce large amounts of carbon dioxide. These human activities are the primary cause for the increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the resulting global climate shifts.

So how are rising carbon dioxide concentrations affecting Arkansas' climate?

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has studied climate change in our Natural State and has concluded that Arkansas will experience significant negative effects. In the 2015 Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan, the Game & Fish Commission notes the following items as current and future impacts of climate change:

• An increase in average yearly temperatures, particularly in Northwest Arkansas.

• More frequent heat waves.

• Public health problems including insect-borne diseases and heat-related illnesses.

• Intense rainfall causing soil erosion.

• Eastern farmland drought and flooding.

With these changes already occurring, what can be done to stabilize our changing climate, especially given the current lack of federal leadership on this topic and the recent politicization of climate change in the United States?

At the Fayetteville City Council Meeting on Tuesday, we will introduce Fayetteville's climate change response strategy in the form of the city's first Energy Action Plan. This bold plan lays out goals, strategies and an implementation plan for the city of Fayetteville to cut 80 percent of local greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Fayetteville's Energy Action Plan specifies actions in four goal areas -- buildings, transportation, energy supply, and waste--with commitments to:

• Achieve 100 percent local government clean energy by 2030.

• Achieve 100 percent community-wide clean energy by 2050.

• Achieve 3 percent annual reduction in overall energy usage in buildings.

• Build local support for national carbon emission reduction and carbon capture strategies.

• Achieve 25 percent bike/walk/transit mode share by 2030.

• Achieve 40 percent total waste diversion from the landfill by 2027.

These broad goals are supported by 26 separate strategies and more than 100 action items that collectively will provide incremental reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Beyond reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Fayetteville's Energy Action Plan seeks to improve the quality of life for Fayetteville citizens through innumerable economic, environmental and social benefits. This plan lays the foundation for new jobs in clean energy sectors, the circular economy and waste reduction, helping make our economy more robust and more resilient. Businesses will become more energy and resource efficient, leading to increased profitability, flexibility and accountability. Our homes, transportation options and food choices will be less carbon intensive, improving our physical health while reducing utility and fuel costs. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we rely on to grow our food will be cleaner, leading to improved health in our community.

Fayetteville's Energy Action Plan lays out a purposeful response to climate change that aligns with Arkansas' values and culture. The Natural State has a rich tradition of agriculture, timber production and outdoor recreation, all rooted in the air, water and soil of our beautiful state. To preserve our legacy and be stewards of our future, Arkansas needs to be a leader in climate change mitigation and preparedness. Our economic security, environmental purity, and social stability rest in our ability to preserve the natural, economic, and human resources around us. By responding proactively to global climate change, we can improve Arkansas for future generations while preserving and protecting the ways of life that we hold dear.

Commentary on 12/18/2017

Print Headline: Arkansans can take steps to respond to climate change

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