Birdie Alt: City of Lawrence must prioritize creating a climate plan (Column)

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On July 6th, the Lawrence City Commission pushed back the work on the city’s climate plan to Spring 2022. This comes after delays for a climate action plan in 2020 and official commitment in February 2021. 

The City of Lawrence has placed its focus on creating a plan for new developments and expanding the city. This is justified with claims that planning new developments and creating the climate action plan simultaneously would be too difficult to complete both in 2021. This is not the implementation of the climate plan itself, but only the development of it. 

I have a solution: Utilize the city’s budget for climate justice. 

2021 has seen the urgency of climate change, with new environmental disasters occurring each week. This summer in Kansas alone we have seen how drastic changes in weather are dangerous, as 98-degree days turn into multiple days of heavy rain. These intense temperatures dry out the soil and sporadic rain floods it, greatly affecting farming in Kansas. Studies show that climate change has adverse impacts on both crops and livestock, with rising temperatures, increasing carbon dioxide emissions, and drought increasing weed and pest presence while decreasing crop health. Farming is the backbone of the economy in Kansas, serving as nearly 40% of our economy and providing more than $65 billion to the state every year. This impact on crops and livestock is dangerous for every community in Kansas. 

There is also increased urgency as Kansas legislators continue to produce anti-environmental sustainability policies. Just in the 2021 session, the State of Kansas passed Senate Bill 24, which prevents municipalities from restricting energy production based on source. This directly inhibits the ability of Lawrence to shift to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, the first of five Green New Deal Principles the city committed to. These include:

  1. Achieving net zero greenhouse emissions for all
  2. Creating jobs with livable wages
  3. Investing in proper infrastructure 
  4. Access to clean, healthy, and climate friendly resources (food, water, air, etc.) for all
  5. Addressing historic oppression of Indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, de-industrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the working poor, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth

Currently, there is no money designated for climate reform in the proposed 2022 budget. Sustainability Director Jasmin Moore requested multiple new team members to be dedicated to the development and implementation of the Climate Action Plan; only one was granted, which will leave the work to be done by two full-time staff (including Moore) and one intern. This has caused The Sunrise Project, a non-government agency, to take on the financial responsibility of creating and offering jobs to aid in the development of the plan for the Commission.

Even as the City of Lawrence makes its plan for expanding the city, it should be designed around the climate plan and the Green New Deal Principles. With no climate plan, no research done on how to implement these in a sustainable way in Lawrence, how can this expansion of the city be done in accordance with the city’s commitments? 

Answer: It can’t. 

The people of Lawrence are desperate for these infrastructure changes to be made as well. With about $5.6 million worth of electric buses being rolled out (seven buses total), Lawrence needs big updates to its accessibility. Taking a bus to reduce emissions only works if the bus routes are accessible. Many stops don’t have shelter, meaning the scorching heat, freezing cold, snow, and rain are things bus riders just have to deal with on their commutes. 

The Lawrence City Commission needs to refocus on creating and implementing the Climate Action Plan before expanding Lawrence. The people of Douglas County deserve the promises the City Commission made in February, and they deserve them now. As we approach the City Commission election, I encourage people to contact candidates and tell them that this is what the people of Lawrence need — not another business center and more homes that people can’t even afford. The Lawrence City Commission made a commitment to our future, and it’s time we hold them to it.

Take action by joining Sunrise Movement Lawrence and other climate activists in a rally at the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 31, to show our commissioners that the people of Lawrence want and need the Lawrence Climate Action Plan today. The rally will begin in front of City Hall at 4:45 p.m., and we will enter the meeting at 5:45 p.m. 

— Birdie Alt (she/her) is a Lawrence native studying journalism and communications at the University of Kansas. She is a fellow for the nonprofit organization Loud Light and serves as the Government Relations Director for the KU Student Senate. She believes in the power of community organizing and that if we come together we can keep Lawrence beautiful. She can be reached at

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