The floods of 2019 scarred the lives and landscapes of Nebraska, and they delivered a horrifying, real-life reminder of what extreme weather events can do. Nebraskans – and our state and federal government – responded as they always do, with grit, ingenuity, sincerity and humor.
But as these emergencies accelerate, it’s going to take more than moxie and money to pull us through.
Hence Lincoln’s recently unveiled 2020 Climate Action Plan Draft. While the goal of the document is to spur change that will lessen the environmental footprint of the city’s residents and businesses, “the thrust of this effort is actually about protecting our people and ensuring our good quality of life for the future,” said Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird in releasing the plan for public comment.
Predictably, the document sets 30-year goals for greenhouse gas emissions (down 80% from 2011 levels) and encourages a switch from fossil fuels to electric power (and renewable resources to generate that power). But the plan also goes deeper into the quality-of-life issues we must plan for as temperatures rise along with the frequency of extreme precipitation events.
One of the bigger ticket items – costing more than $1 billion – would be establishing a second water source for the city, a concern that rose during last year’s floods when the city’s Platte River well field was threatened.
Less costly, but not less important, will be building resiliency into Lincoln’s food supply, allowing us to be less dependent on outside sources and transportation to keep grocery store shelves stocked, and aligning government policies and business goals with the reality of a more volatile climate. Minor climate changes and major disasters can have big impacts on how the community survives and thrives based on how we prepare – or what we learn – for them.
It’s hard to put a price tag on our peace of mind and security, but at some point we’ll have to. We can only afford to spend so much. Our economy now is pinched by pandemic. Affordable housing remains a challenge. No one is eager to pay more in taxes. So we have to be prepared to spend wisely and recognize that spending for what it really is – an investment in the future.
But ignoring the science and sticking out heads into the flood-washed sand of our next catastrophe will be far more expensive. This plan – fleshed out with public feedback – puts Lincoln in a position to get ahead of the coming crisis and set an example for other communities and our state.