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South Bend’s director of sustainability talks about need, plans for climate action in the city

| Monday, March 2, 2020

In a joint initiative between the Kellogg Institute and the Office of Sustainability, Therese Dorau, South Bend’s director of sustainability, spoke at Notre Dame on Friday about the recently adopted climate action plan for South Bend.

In Nov. 2019, the South Bend Common Council unanimously approved “Carbon Neutral 2050” to reduce the city’s carbon emissions, according to the South Bend Tribune. The plan was one of the final initiatives of Pete Buttigieg’s mayoral tenure.

“Now we’re in the process of determining the details for implementation,” Dorau said.

Dorau said the plan sets two short-term and medium-term goals. The first is to reduce emissions by 26% by 2025, in keeping with the Paris Climate Accord, a goal that she says many local governments, businesses and states are “committing to in the absence of a national commitment.”

“We already have a lot of the resources and the capacity that we need here in the community, in South Bend,” Dorau said. “So, it’s really just a matter of rolling it out with intention and commitment to get to that first level.”

The medium-term objective is a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2035, which will require more resources, planning and policy change, Dorau said. The end goal is achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Dorau spoke about the need, benefits and strategies behind South Bend’s “Carbon Neutral 2050.”

The need, she said, for climate action, is based on greenhouse emissions data, climate science and experiences. In regards to data, the administration calculated South Bend’s carbon footprint at 1.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, Indiana-based scientific predictions of climate events were carried out in 2018 by the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment. She also talked about the city’s experience with two major floods in 2016 and 2018.

Dorau prompted the audience to reflect on the benefits of climate action.

“As you look towards your life after graduation, or if you ever were to leave South Bend to move somewhere else, what would you be looking for in your community?” Dorau asked.

The conversation steered toward climate resiliency, education, green spaces and clean air and water. Dorau also mentioned improved public health, cost savings, economic growth and increased equity, among other topics.

“Because we saw that 94% of our footprint was coming from these two categories, that’s where a lot of our strategies ended up: transportation and energy,” Dorau said.

The 25 actions in the plan, she said, can be condensed into “two basic ideas … use less, and if you can’t use less, use better.”

In terms of transportation, this would mean reducing miles and trips, or using cleaner fuel, she said. In regards to energy, it would mean improving efficiency, or using renewable sources.

Dorau mentioned some current resiliency projects in the city that reduce fossil fuel use, including Howard Park, which is seeking LEED certification, and Diamond Avenue’s bioretention system, “a natural, green storm water infrastructure that filters and stores water before it flows into the river in a storm event,” Dorau said.

She also talked about the solar panels on top of South Bend Fire Station #4 and other strides made in public transportation.

“I want to end with a reminder of what we’re trying to protect here in South Bend: a diversity of seasons … a diversity of faces, of passions, of talents,” Dorau said. “As climate stress becomes greater, it’s going to be harder to do this, to build these community features, and [it’s going to be] more important that we protect them.”

However, “Carbon Neutral 2050” is not without criticism. Some activist groups such as the Sunrise Movement wanted an earlier timeline in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, as promised by more progressive plans like the Green New Deal.

Garrett Blad, National Press Coordinator for the Sunrise Movement, told The Observer last year that the plan was inadequate, irresponsible and dangerous.

“It doesn’t follow what the scientists say,” Blad said then. “When standing on the national stage, Mayor Pete himself even said that the time for carbon neutrality should be decades ago. Why did he still set the timeline on 2050 for South Bend?”

Dorau told The Observer that “the University of Notre Dame is uniquely positioned … because it is a faith-based and mission-driven organization, to justify the investments and the behavior change a little bit easier than a local government, which has to stay fairly neutral.”

“I mentioned finding champions and lifting them up as examples to say ‘This can be done.’ Notre Dame is setting example in our community,” she said.

In 2019, the University implemented Grind2Energy, a system to convert food waste into renewable energy, and announced that it had stopped burning coal a year ahead of schedule. Among other initiatives, these are part of Notre Dame’s five-year Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy launched in 2016.

“The city definitely considers Notre Dame a key partner in climate change, not only because we share a border, and your emissions are our emissions,” Doreau said. “But also, because the opportunity and the interest in reducing those emissions is shared.”

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About Adriana Perez

Adriana is a junior from Guayaquil, Ecuador majoring in Political Science and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Sustainability. You can find her on Twitter @adrianamperezr.

Contact Adriana