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Posts Tagged ‘pragmatic’

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On May 4, 2007, Greensburg, Kansas, was hit by a tornado that devastated the town. Thirteen years later, Greenburg has been rebuilt, but differently.

Sometimes progress on global warming is made not by idealistic environmentalists but by pragmatists thinking about long-term costs. That was the case in a rural Kansas town that was badly damaged by a tornado.

Annie Gowen reported recently at the Washington Post, “A wind-swept farming community in southwestern Kansas, Greensburg rebuilt ‘green’ after an EF5 tornado — the most violent — barreled through at more than 200 miles per hour and nearly wiped it off the map in 2007.

“A decade later, Greensburg draws 100 percent of its electricity from a wind farm, making it one of a handful of cities in the United States to be powered solely by renewable energy. It now has an energy-efficient school, a medical center, city hall, library and commons, museum and other buildings that save more than $200,000 a year in fuel and electricity costs, according to one federal estimate. The city saves thousands of gallons of water with low-flow toilets and drought-resistance landscaping and, in the evening, its streets glow from LED lighting. …

“Greensburg is no liberal bastion. [But] leaders there now are routinely consulted by communities around the world grappling with devastating weather events from wildfires, tsunami, earthquakes and floods. …

“Greensburg’s journey has not always been easy, residents say, nor did it unfurl perfectly. A fancy rainwater irrigation system for its Main Street has never worked. Wind turbines installed for city and other local buildings were costly to maintain — and one toppled into a field. A business park built to attract companies and clean-energy jobs remains empty.

“ ‘There are lessons learned that we can share,’ said Bob Dixson, a retired postmaster who served as mayor during much of the rebuilding. ‘I totally believe that we’re a living laboratory here with a plethora of architectural design and sustainable environmental practices to share.’ …

“Environmentalists around the world are now arguing that this moment is crucial for local governments — whether they’re trying to rebuild a town burned by a wildfire or figuring out ways to revitalize their economies after a pandemic, said Katharine K. Wilkinson, a climate strategist and co-editor of the recent anthology ‘All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis.’ …

“ ‘[There] are opportunities to rethink the systems we create at a local level, and that’s where a lot of climate solutions happen,’ Wilkinson said. …

“[In Greensburg in 2007] more than 90 percent of the buildings and trees had been swept away in a matter of minutes. Twelve people died. Amid the chaos of rescue and recovery, town leaders began contemplating early on how to rebuild — and the idea of building back in a sustainable way emerged almost immediately, they said in interviews with the Post. …

“City leaders worked to build community consensus around the concept — and persuade homeowners to also embrace green as they rebuilt their homes. But it wasn’t always easy to convince some in the rugged farm community where conservative politics predominate. …

‘We tried to approach it in a practical way, not tree-hugger green, but economic green. Ramming stuff down people’s throats — especially in this part of the world — doesn’t work.’

John Janssen

“By the end of 2007, Greensburg became the first city in the country to require all municipal buildings over 4,000 square feet to be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization. That means the buildings meet certain standards for saving energy, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to global warming. …

“The city was able to halve its carbon footprint by shifting to 100 percent wind energy from a 10-turbine wind farm south of town that is owned and operated by Exelon Corp. The turbines, which began operating in 2010, are capable of producing 12.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 4,000 homes, according to Exelon. …

“An NREL [National Renewable Energy Lab] study from 2011 showed that 13 of the city’s ‘smart’ buildings save about a combined $200,000 a year in utility costs, and the homes consume about 40 percent less energy on average than before the tornado. …

“Not everything the town has tried has worked. Some of the buildings, including the school and the hospital, used to have their own smaller wind turbines to use along with solar panels, but the turbines proved costly to maintain. The hospital took its down after one toppled over, officials said. Luckily, no one was injured.

“ ‘You can build the greenest buildings in the world but if you can’t afford to live with them, that’s not sustainable,’ Dixson said. ‘You have to look at long-term maintenance also.’ ”

More tips on how to rebuild greener are here, at the Post.

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