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Local View: With Larson's leadership, Duluth going greener

In challenging times, Minnesotans turn to our talented women for resilience. Comfortable with interdependence, their leadership builds bonds, relationships, and teamwork that pull us together.

Bill MittlefehldtNow is one of those times, and Duluth's Mayor Emily Larson is one of those leaders.

Climate instability is the largest challenge faced by our city and planet. We can pause together to offer our thanks for Larson's local leadership at a time of federal folly.

Mayor Larson graduated from the College of St. Scholastica and University of Minnesota Duluth before starting her own enterprise in Duluth. Her priorities, expertise, and courage have added to her vision of what is possible for our community. With her impressive skill set and civic priorities, she has helped lead Duluth when revenues, budgets, and priorities were uncertain. This is why we celebrate her skills, clarity, and commitment.

While working to protect clean water and fix roads, Mayor Larson has kept her eye on the largest challenge facing this port of possibilities: climate costs. Climate change already has affected Duluth financially. The flood of 2012 cost $100 million for cleanup. The recent storm off Lake Superior brought winds, record waves, and damage to the shore and Lakewalk estimated at $2.5 million.

The mayor seems to understand that more storm impacts will be caused by warming dynamics in the atmosphere, caused by our fossil-fuel use.

Mayor Larson also seems to understand the need for a plan to reduce carbon emissions if we hope to reduce risks and costs to our kids and community in the future. This was, at least in part, why she joined more than 350 other U.S. mayors in vowing to uphold the goals in the Paris Climate Agreement after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord. Because of Trump's environmental ignorance, our nation alone withdrew from this global teamwork. Larson and the other "climate mayors" decided to act together to reduce the risks to our kids, communities, budgets and economy.

Working with city staff, with Duluth Energy Systems, and with institutional partners, the mayor set a goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in Duluth 80 percent by 2050. The mayor sees opportunities in climate science and already has been working with partner cities in Sieben, Germany, and Vaxjo, Sweden. These partner cities have demonstrated climate and economic leadership in Europe, adding possibilities for Duluth.

The right-wing of the GOP fears such local leadership. Billionaires fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which is active in Washington, D.C., and St. Paul, offering free legislation that works for fossil-fuel industries. In addition, the Heartland Institute of Chicago uses "dark money" to prevent markets from valuing stable climate futures.

Mayor Larson is working with partners in the Duluth Energy System to use less coal while increasing the use of natural gas. She also proposed investing $900,000 for community solar power from Minnesota Power. And the mayor is working with the city's Facilities and Management division to harness local energies where feasible. She authorized the city Planning Department to include a sustainable-energy plan in the city's Comprehensive Plan update.

This is remarkable local leadership.

Mayor Larson has encouraged Duluth's youth, churches, and businesses to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and to invest in community solar gardens. Her leadership has generated initiatives at Denfeld High School, the College of St. Scholastica, and UMD. Students appreciate her focus on service and teamwork. Her service inspired the Duluth Energy Coalition to offer the community a path toward a sustainable energy future.

In the wake of Thanksgiving, we can give thanks for the informed and committed leadership Duluth's Mayor Emily Larson offers.

Bill Mittlefehldt of Duluth is a retired economics educator and an energy coordinator whose Cross Currents consulting firm works with communities to build a more sustainable and resilient future. He also serves the Arrowhead Chapter of Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (mnipl.org) and the Duluth Energy Coalition.

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