October's DMO of the Month Makes a Global Difference on Climate Change
Local efforts have the potential to gain worldwide recognition. Such was the case when Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum was invited to join mayors from around the world at the Vatican to discuss climate change with Pope Francis. The effects of climate change are clearly felt in Boulder, which has experienced historic flooding and is racing to adapt. October DMO of the Month Matt Appelbaum knows that his city depends on an appropriate response to new climate patterns.
Municipal officials everywhere have to deal with imminent threats when climate change triggers more extreme weather in their cities. Mayor Appelbaum had to respond when increased precipitation (17 inches in eight days in 2013) brought on by climate change led to extensive flooding damage. Boulder has since demarcated areas susceptible to those floods, and created new bike lanes and underpasses that double as flood control channels. Bolstering the city’s infrastructure against this severe flooding is estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $400 million. However the total repair bill of $43 million in 2013 alone makes the cost prudent in the long run. Indeed, fifteen percent of homes in Boulder were damaged by the flooding, and those residents might spend a year’s salary on individual repairs. The basic responsibility to manage his city leaves Mayor Appelbaum with no alternative but to take action on climate change.
Transitioning to less carbon intensive forms of energy is one way Boulder is trying to have a big influence on the local environment. The city currently relies on a contract with an energy company that maintains a coal burning power plant. Appelbaum is looking for ways to create more choice in where Boulder gets its energy, as ending reliance on coal would have a huge impact on the region’s energy and environmental profile. Municipalization is perhaps the idea with the greatest potential impact. The city would take over local utility operations, purchasing existing infrastructure from the power company and directing the system themselves. While this in turn would be expensive, it may become the most community-supported choice if the power company refuses to create a greener option.
This July, Appelbaum and his fellow mayors were chosen to attend a papal conference discussing local thoughts on climate change, and the human costs that these disasters can lead to. Entitled "Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of the Cities", the conference worked in part to place pressure on the UN to approve new goals for limiting the impact of climate change. Held in the wake of the Pope’s June encyclical, it shows that even foreign heads of state are looking to local officials for their bright ideas. Appelbaum has also joined Resilient Communities for America, which is now working to get officials signed on to the Compact of Mayors and publicly commit to a climate action plan before this November’s Paris talks. Leadership is needed at every level to combat climate change, and local officials are drawing notice from everyone from the Pope to the UN.
As seen from Mayor Appelbaum's visit to the Vatican, local efforts can create an incredible global message. Last week Pope Francis urged members of the United Nations to act on climate change. Mayor Appelbaum and his peers helped make that call one that was heard worldwide. But his impact in addressing climate change is felt more directly by Boulder residents, who want to enjoy cleaner air, gain greater agency over their energy production, and avoid the costs of homes damaged by severe weather. Our DMO of the Month this October will continue to take his city in a direction that both sets an example for sustainable communities, and safeguards its residents against the effects of increasingly costly weather disasters.
Matt Appelbaum has served continuously on the Boulder City council since 2007, and was chosen to lead as mayor in 2011. His time on the council also includes a stretch from 1987-1995. Mayor Appelbaum is active with the Colorado Municipal League, and serves on Board of Directors of National League of Cities. In addition to presenting on climate change at the Vatican, Matt spoke at the World Economic Forum in Japan and the European Green Capital City Conference in Stockholm. He sits on the executive committee of the local Sierra Club.