Duluth City Council declares 'climate emergency'

Apr. 13—Duluth officially proclaimed a climate emergency Monday night, by an 8-0 vote of its City Council, with at large councilor Derek Medved absent.

Several citizens addressed the council using an online platform, as the body continues to meet virtually, in an attempt to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Lisa Fitzpatrick helped collect more than 700 signatures on a petition calling on the council to take action and said: "We can and must reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to zero as soon as possible. We are in a race to stop the climate crisis. It's the race of a lifetime. It's a race for the future."

Another Duluth resident, Libby Bent referred to Duluth's action on the issue as time, noting: "Last week, atmospheric CO2 levels surged past 420 parts per million — the highest in recorded history and half-way to doubling pre-industrial levels."

"The point is: We're out of time," Bent said. "I believe the largest obstacles we face are inertia and policies designed for business as usual. It is going to take nimbleness and imagination. And not everything will be neat and tidy, but we need to be willing to delve in and try new things, because what we know, with absolute surety, is that business as usual is not working."

But 3rd District City Councilor Roz Randorf, one of the sponsors of the resolution passed Monday, said it was far from just a symbolic act.

"It has benchmarks. It has a work plan that will be implemented by city administration and the results of that will be reported back to this council. So, it's really aimed at increasing accountability around specific targets. It's measurable, and it's actionable," she said.

Councilor Joel Sipress, another sponsor of the resolution, equated the climate change situation to a leaky roof, stressing the fact that delay in addressing the problem only leads to more costly repairs.

While 5th District Councilor Janet Kennedy voted in support of the resolution, she made it clear she did not want it to eclipse other issues.

"Here's what I won't support though. I will not support the majority priority, creating another system that doesn't take into consideration all of the other important issues that we have around people not having a good place to live. We have education issues. We have issues of people of color not being able to be treated well in this community, not accepted, still not doing well, still living in poverty — a lot of people, not just people of color. That needs to be addressed. That can't go away," Kennedy said.

At large Councilor Arik Forsman noted that Duluth already is feeling the environmental and economic impact of climate change, including coastal erosion that has undermined the city's Lakewalk.

But he said the discussion about how best to respond must involve all parties, including neighborhoods and businesses.

"As an economic developer by trade, I do believe that we must value economic growth and prosperity and combat climate change at the same time, and that we can achieve progress on both of those issues," Forsman said.

He noted that the resolution doesn't increase taxes or lead to business mandates. But Forsman said: "Rather the climate action work plan really sets up a framework and an opportunity for more collaboration across the public sectors, so we can all do better."