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 around the idea that “finding ways to increase our ability to reduce heat, reduce fires, increase stormwater absorption, all of that is really guided in part by the health and vitality of the living systems around us. “said Brett KenCairn, Policy Advisor for Natural Climate Solutions.
“Climate action must be about both emissions management, the carbon dioxide aspect, resilience and equity,” he added later.
The expansion of natural climate solutions is a big part of that.
The campaign includes three action areas: pollinator pathways, connected canopies and absorbing landscapes. These efforts will help cool temperatures, promote biodiversity, and retain more carbon, water, and thermal energy in particular landscapes.
Energy efficiency upgrades, installing solar panels or switching to electric cars are key to mitigating climate change, but efforts can be costly, the city noted in a press release about the effort. .
Natural climate solutions, including planting trees, installing pollinator-friendly gardens that create shade, or building low-tech structures that hold water are more accessible, the city said.
Planting trees is a key part of the Cool Boulder campaign, but alongside that, Boulder is also tasked with maintaining the health of its current canopy. Sometimes that means trees need to be removed, as was the case last week when the city felled a historic cottonwood on Pearl Street that was in decline.
“These are not aberrations. These are the new norms that we have to figure out how to live with,” KenCairn said. “Much of the tree stock we have has never lived in the conditions we are going to have now.”
He said it was heartbreaking to have to cut down trees, but argued that it underscored the importance of collecting seeds from trees that are doing well in Boulder.
“It’s really essential now for us to start thinking about the forest that we have to create, even if we have to try to sort out the forest that we have,” he said.
Boulder recently adopted more aggressive climate targets. This includes finding an energy system that will provide 100% renewable energy by 2030 and a 70% reduction in emissions by 2030, based on 2018 levels. Boulder also wants to be net zero by by 2035 and carbon positive by 2040.
While this campaign will help Boulder achieve those goals, KenCairn said the Cool Boulder campaign also intends to develop its own goals, such as the number of trees to plant and specific temperature reduction goals.
Cool Boulder is still in the construction phase, so those specific goals should arrive in early 2023.
In its new climate goals, Boulder has recognized that tackling climate change will take a systems approach, meaning it takes much more than individual effort to have a positive impact.
But that doesn’t mean local work can’t have an impact, KenCairn noted.
“There will, of course, be dynamics around global climate change that we cannot change. We are going to have to live with this,” he said. “But we can change climate dynamics locally if we can change, for example, the amount of water that is retained in local landscapes.”
Dehydrated landscapes are part of the reason the region has recently experienced such destructive wildfires, KenCairn said.
One of the first projects the Cool Boulder campaign will undertake includes an assessment of where increased heat poses 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 cycle through 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 could improve its climate preparedness, Boulder will provide the data to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory so it can be used to help create new thermal models for Earth.
“We’re not just building a heatmap for Boulder. We’re actually helping to build the ability to do some kind of heat modeling on a global scale,” KenCairn said.
While the city created the campaign and provides financial and logistical support, the Cool Boulder campaign encompasses more than 20 groups and organizations that serve as official partners in the initiative.
The Butterfly Pavilion, Eco-Cycle, Resource Central, Boulder Valley Rotary, Boulder Jewish Community Center, Boulder Housing Partners and Drylands Agroecology Research are among dozens of initial partners working on projects across the three action areas.
In the city’s press release, Rosie Briggs, volunteer coordinator for Eco-Cycle, noted that the group of more than 1,000 volunteer eco-leaders are committed to coordinating and implementing initiatives – ranging from events training for pollinator advocates in thermal mapping of the neighborhood.
“We are very pleased to be an active partner in this campaign,” Briggs said in the statement.
Learn more: coolboulder.org