Boulder and dozens of community partners have launched a natural climate solutions campaign called Cool Boulder.
At the heart of it all, Cool Boulder is centered on the idea that “finding ways to increase our ability to reduce heat, reduce fire, increase stormwater absorption all are really guided in some part by the health and vitality of the living systems around us,” Natural Climate Solutions Policy Advisor Brett KenCairn said.
“Climate action has to be simultaneously about both the emissions management, the carbon dioxide aspect, and resilience and equity,” he later added.
Expanding natural climate solutions is a big part of that.
The campaign includes three action areas: pollinator pathways, connected canopies and absorbent landscapes. These efforts will help cool temperatures, foster biodiversity and hold more carbon, water and thermal energy within particular landscapes.
Energy efficiency upgrades, installing solar or switching to electric cars are essential in mitigating climate change, but the efforts can be costly, the city noted in a news release about the effort.
Natural climate solutions, including tree planting, installing shade-creating pollinator friendly gardens or building low-tech structures that retain water are more accessible, the city stated
Planting trees is a key part of the Cool Boulder campaign, but along with that, Boulder also is tasked with maintaining the health of its current canopy. Sometimes that means trees must be removed, as was the case last week when the city cut down a historic cottonwood on Pearl Street that was in declining health.
“These are not aberrations. These are the new normals that we have to figure out how to live with,” KenCairn said. “A lot of the tree stock that we have have never lived in the conditions that we’re going to have now.”
He said it’s heartbreaking when trees have to be taken down but argued it highlights the importance of collecting seed from the trees that are doing well in Boulder.
“It’s really critical now for us to start thinking about the forest that we need to create, even as we have to try to do triage on the forest that we have,” he said.
Boulder recently adopted more aggressive climate goals. This includes striving for an energy system that delivers 100% renewable energy by 2030 and a 70% emissions reduction by 2030, based on 2018 levels. Boulder also wants to be net zero by 2035 and carbon positive by 2040.
While this campaign will help Boulder work toward those goals, KenCairn said the Cool Boulder campaign also intends to develop its own targets such as the number of trees that should be planted and specific temperature reduction targets.
Cool Boulder is still in the building phase, though, so those specific goals are likely to come in early 2023.
Within its new climate goals, Boulder acknowledged that fighting climate change will take a systems approach, meaning it requires much more than the individual effort to make a positive impact.
But that doesn’t mean local work cannot be impactful, KenCairn noted.
“There (are) going to be, of course, dynamics about global climate change that we can’t change. We’re going to have to live through it,” he said. “But we can change the dynamics of climate locally if we can change, for example, the amount of water that’s being held in local landscapes.”
Dehydrated landscapes are part of the reason the area has seen such destructive wildfires recently, KenCairn said.
One of the first projects the Cool Boulder campaign will undertake includes an assessment of where increased heat posts the greatest risk in the community.
Boulder is one of more than a dozen cities across the country that will participate in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s urban heat mapping initiative. Volunteers across the city will use heat sensors mounted on their own bikes or cars to traverse their neighborhoods in the morning, afternoon and evening on one of the hottest days of the year.
In addition to providing the city with information that can improve its climate readiness, Boulder will provide the data to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory so it can be used to help create new heat models for the earth.
“We’re not only building a heat map for Boulder. We’re actually helping to build the capacity to do heat modeling sort of globally,” KenCairn said.
While the city created the campaign and is providing financial and logistical support, the Cool Boulder campaign encompasses more than 20 groups and organizations that serve as formal partners in the initiative.
The Butterfly Pavilion, Eco-Cycle, Resource Central, Boulder Valley Rotary, the Boulder Jewish Community Center, Boulder Housing Partners and Drylands Agroecology Research are among the dozens of initial partners working on projects within the three action areas.
In the city’s news release, Rosie Briggs, volunteer coordinator for Eco-Cycle, noted that the group of more than 1,000 volunteer Eco-Leaders are signing up to coordinate and implement the initiatives — everything from pollinator advocate training events to neighborhood heat mapping.
“We are very excited to be an active partner in this campaign,” Briggs stated in the release.
Learn more: coolboulder.org