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Climate Change and the Case for Zero Carbon Housing in Duluth


In the April, 2020 issue of National Geographic, the authors of "How We Lost the Planet" talked about carbon dioxide (CO2) staying in the atmosphere for centuries, and that even if we were to start cutting emissions right now, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the problem of climate change would continue to grow. They wrote, "Earth will keep warming until we shut down emissions completely."


Two years earlier, in the spring of 2018, Duluth's city government received a report funded by an Environmental Assistance Grant with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The opening sentence of the "Vulnerable Populations and Climate Adaptation Framework" stated that "climate change is a global phenomenon that creates local impacts." The local impacts identified in the Duluth report include specifics about increasing extreme weather events and rising temperatures, and – more importantly - concerns about human vulnerability, including these notable characterizations about the Duluth citizens most at risk to the impacts of climate change:

● More than 1 in every 3 climate vulnerable individuals in Duluth live in economic stress.

● Those at risk are most concentrated in the Western, Northwestern, and Central sections of the City; and usually carry a heavy housing cost burden, including higher utility costs.


Not long after the local report, in early October, 2018, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a 728-page report, prepared by ninety-one of the world's leading scientists. This report stated that without dramatic steps to reduce the use of fossil fuels and curtail the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air, global temperatures could reach a tipping point in about 12 years, threatening human life as we know it. Within less than a generation, the planet could see more catastrophic wildfires, rapidly rising seas, worsening food shortages, mass migrations of climate refugees, and a mass die-off of coral reefs.


On February 8th, 2019, David Aldana Cohen wrote a piece for Jacobin Magazine, entitled "A Green New Deal for Housing”, where he stated that a Green New Deal "can't deliver economic or environmental justice without tackling the housing crisis." He talked about building a ton of new housing to low-carbon standards that can serve as a "massive lever for decarbonizing the building sector." Cohen wrote, "A low-carbon housing guarantee is a great fit for a job guarantee… A huge home building program with a near-zero carbon mandate could train and equip tens of thousands of workers in the skills needed to strip carbon from each of the country's houses."


Thirteen days later, on February 21st, 2019, the New York Times ran a story about a new federal resolution being presented to Congress by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ed Markey. The Green New Deal resolution calls for massive public investments to get the country's economy to net zero carbon in the 2030's, and to prioritize clean energy and "resilience investments" in racially diverse and working-class communities. The foundation of the Green New Deal is to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change while simultaneously addressing the systemic societal problems of racial injustice and economic inequality.


The American Institute of Architects' "Blueprint for Better" states that "human activity is warming our planet to dangerous levels, and carbon is the primary culprit." They stress that since buildings account for about 40% of that carbon, buildings must now be designed to meet zero-carbon standards. Ed Mazria, an architect in Santa Fe, New Mexico recognized this connection much earlier; in 2002 he founded Architecture 2030, a nonprofit initiative that set specific defined targets and methods to encourage architects to transform the global built environment from a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central role in the solution to the climate crisis.


The urgent need to reduce our collective carbon footprint within the building industry has been conveyed by scientists, environmentalists, legislators, and architects. Our own State and City agencies have identified the particular vulnerabilities in Duluth. What’s missing are the concrete plans to make the necessary changes. It would appear that Green New Deal Housing in Duluth has a very unique and meaningful opportunity to build zero-carbon housing and, at the same time, provide educational and training programs to promote greater economic and racial equality in our city, and build the skilled workforce necessary for low carbon community development.


- Tone Lanzillo is a member of the Loaves and Fishes community in Duluth. For the past several years, Tone has been writing a series of columns on

climate change for the Reader and Duluth News Tribune.

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