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Here’s what Louisville’s mayoral candidates have to say about the climate transition

Louisville Mayor, Metro Hall, Louisville
Louisville Mayor, Metro Hall, Louisville

Louisville’s next mayor will be responsible for ushering in, or shirking, the urgent system-wide transformation needed to limit greenhouse gas emissions and avoid catastrophe.

Those words, “urgent system-wide transformation” come from the latest report from the United Nations. The planet needs to cut emissions by about half by 2030 in order to limit warming to 2.7 degrees and maintain a habitable planet.

The upshot is that the cities and countries around the world are more committed than ever before to tackling this challenge. Unfortunately, the planet is on track to nearly double the amount of warming deemed safe by experts by the end of the century. That is, unless we work together to stop it.

The federal government declared a half-dozen natural disasters in Kentucky in the past two years; including the devastating tornadoesin western Kentucky and the summer floods in eastern Kentucky; both which bore the fingerprints of climate change.

Louisville’s outgoing mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order pledging the city will reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions communitywide by 2040. This transition will require fundamental transformation in the city’s electrical supply, commerce, industry, transportation and housing. But Fischer’s order is only as good as the next mayor’s commitment to achieving it.

WFPL News sent out questionnaires to every Louisville mayoral candidate asking how they plan to tackle this transformation, and whether they plan to fulfill Fischer’s 2040 pledge. Democratic mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg responded, as did two independent candidates.

Republican mayoral candidate Bill Dieruf did not respond to the questionnaire or follow up requests for comment. Dieruf’s campaign website didn’t mention the candidate’s environmental policies as of Friday. At a candidate event during the primaries, Dieruf said in his role as mayor of Jeffersontown he was working toward achieving 100% renewable energy for the city.

Here are the responses from candidates. They’ve been edited for length and clarity.

Democratic mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg

Do you agree with the scientific consensus that humans have unequivocally increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels, and that continuing to burn fossil fuels threatens a liveable future?

Greenberg: Yes. The science is clear that our climate is rapidly changing and that change is being driven by human activity, most notably the burning of fossil fuels. There is near universal consensus that the time has come to begin winding down the use of fossil fuels, build a sustainable future based on renewable energy, and prepare for extreme weather pattern changes before it is too late.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order committing the city to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. To what degree do you intend to fulfill this commitment.

Greenberg: This is not an optional goal and I am wholly committed to meeting it by 2040 or sooner if possible. We must work together to make Louisville a safer and healthier city.

What specific actions will you take as mayor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resiliency? How do you plan to hold your administration accountable for meeting these commitments?

Greenberg: There are so many things, big and small, our city should be doing to improve our environment and create a healthier Louisville. We need to be serious about how we are planning, designing and building our city to create walkable and sustainable neighborhoods. We should continue the push for solar energy on residential, commercial and government buildings. We must improve our public transportation system so that we decrease our reliance on cars. Greenspace - from large parks to small gardens - should be a focus of public and private development. Our administration will be clear about our actions, we will welcome public feedback and we will provide regular updates on our progress. Transparency will be an important principle in our administration.

Independent candidate Martina Nichols Kunnecke

Do you agree with the scientific consensus that humans have unequivocally increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels, and that continuing to burn fossil fuels threatens a liveable future?

Kunnecke: Yes, I think the evidence clearly demonstrates that human actions have not only increased green gases, but been the major contributor. Because our culture relies so much on actions that contribute daily  (heating homes, electricity and driving gas fueled vehicles – it is a definite threat now and in the future.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order committing the city to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. To what degree do you intend to fulfill this commitment?

Kunnecke: To a great degree. Executive orders and resolutions leading nowhere will be a thing of the past. Under my administration, proclamations will be followed by policy and action; no more lip service. Issues related to climate change, air quality, greenhouse emissions, the heat index and water quality will be addressed with informed policy and enforcement of that policy. Also we will explore ways to incentivize institutions and households to contribute less to the problem and more to the solution.

What specific actions will you take as mayor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resiliency? How do you plan to hold your administration accountable for meeting these commitments?

Kunnecke: We will explore and encourage private and public entities to shift toward alternative energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal) and the more efficient use.  We will work towards improving our public transit options (TARC, rail, interstate bus) and incentivizing public transit use (more routes, affordable fares, more convenient access, etc.). A public education campaign to encourage personal shifts in behavior will also be key. A review of policy for areas that are relevant to climate change and other environmental issues will reveal policy gaps and areas where waivers from current policy has been a contributor to the problem  For example, the role of sprawl and urban decline or public school bus travel will be examined as to impact and how policy can be enforced to compel better transportation and land use.

Independent candidate John Mace

Do you agree with the scientific consensus that humans have unequivocally increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels, and that continuing to burn fossil fuels threatens a liveable future?

Mace: Yes.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order committing the city to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. To what degree do you intend to fulfill this commitment?

Mace: I believe that net-zero [pledges are] the Democrats’ way of enriching their donors in the tech industry. In order to achieve net-zero, you don't necessarily have to reduce fossil fuel usage as long as there is an equal amount of electric-run machines. (Fact Check: Net-zero means getting as close to zero emissions as possible with the remainder offset through other means such as planting trees or carbon storage.) I do support the usage of electric, however we still need to reduce energy consumption because our electricity is still mostly powered by burning coal. Another part of the discussion that gets left out is e-waste. Because innovation is pushed more by capitalism than altruism, millions of electronics are made obsolete every year by newer models, and we don't have a system that repurposes electronics or makes them with interchangeable parts that are user-friendly. Instead of net-zero, I believe the better approach is to capture more natural sources of energy like sun, water, and wind and make the necessary cultural changes that equal the amount of energy those systems produce. Changes such as reducing car traffic downtime on weekends to encourage more walking, biking, and use of buses. Another change would be cutting a large part of downtown to all vehicle traffic to improve air quality and have more space to plant trees and plants to increase biodiversity downtown.

What specific actions will you take as mayor to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resiliency? How do you plan to hold your administration accountable for meeting these commitments?

Mace: My overall philosophy towards environmental health is changing cities to be more in line with nature instead of fighting against it. I would push for an ordinance requiring trees to be planted within a set distance from one another to increase the tree canopy and eliminate open parking lots which can become unbearably hot in the summer. I would also have new buildings install rooftop terraces and offer tax breaks for old ones to do the same. This would reduce the energy required to cool these buildings in the summer and soak up more water during heavy rains. I would use the same method to help increase the airflow of buildings by being better at catching the wind. Reducing trash is another big issue. I think the best way to start is by using reusable products and reducing the trash in our daily habits. This would include more hand dryers and getting rid of paper towels in bathrooms. Phasing out plastic bottles by having less vending machines full of pop bottles and installing more drink filling stations that are accessible year round. I would also pass a plastic bag tax to encourage reusable bags and to get people to reconsider their need for the bag without being a financial burden. Finally, I would create a review board that would examine businesses operating in the county which pose a major threat to the environment and the health of residents who live near these businesses. This is particularly important in the West End with companies like Marathon, DuPont, and the rest of the rubber district. If these companies refuse to change their practices, we must force them to relocate. I know most people will see such a feat as being impossible and unrealistic, but we must show these companies that we are serious and that we're ready to stick it out for the long haul and that we don't see this as something that will change over time.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.