With a population of 5,000, a pollution-free Manitou Springs would do little to stop the elephant of global climate change.
But that hasn't deterred Megan Day and a cadre of Manitou and Colorado Springs environmentalists from pushing to cut emissions in the mountain town.
Since September, Day and others have been formatting a resolution that will go before Manitou City Council in early March. The proposal is based on the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) plan calling for a governmental promise to curtail emissions.
Because the five-step plan requires rigorous follow-up, the upcoming resolution is dissimilar from past Manitou pledges that proclaimed a largely symbolic commitment to the environment.
"There might be the political will to make something happen," says Day, who will conduct the emissions inventory to fulfill her master's thesis at the University of Colorado at Denver. "It's a small town. We don't have to move mountains."
Pending council's approval which includes a $600 equipment fee paid to ICLEI Manitou would become a "city for climate protection." Over the next year, the locality would track emissions, devise a goal and plan to reduce them, and get to work. Depending on what the initial emissions study reveals, Manitou might replace streetlights with energy-saving LED bulbs. It could streamline its recycling program. Or it might switch out the city-owned fleet to fuel-efficient vehicles.
More than 190 localities in the United States including Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Aspen and Golden are designated "cities for climate protection," which means they receive emissions testing equipment and other support from ICLEI. The trend follows the federal government's failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 United Nations agreement that would have forced the country to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Two years ago, Manitou City Council adopted a "resolution supporting the endorsement of the Kyoto Treaty," pledging to "think globally and act locally" to become a "green community." While the plan included promises for improved regional transit and more fuel-efficient vehicles, Councilwoman Liz Feder says it was an "I am in favor of Santa Claus" type of declaration, one that changed nothing.
Manitou never before has tracked emissions for its jurisdiction. Though carbon monoxide levels have decreased in recent years as cars have burned cleaner, other pollutants have gone unchecked. And now that El Paso County's car emissions testing program has been eliminated, the environment could likely suffer.
Day's upcoming resolution would help implement the Kyoto pledge, she says. But there's no telling whether it actually would substantially cut pollution.
Other "cities for climate protection" in Colorado have had slow success with their own five-step plans. Fort Collins, for instance, which adopted the resolution 10 years ago, has lagged on its goal of reducing emissions to 30 percent below projected 2010 levels. As of 2004, the city had cut pollution by 10 percent.
If Manitou approves the plan, a tight budget could preclude the city from meeting its target. Feder says council likely will wait for the city's streetlights and vehicles to wear out before replacing them with more sustainable substitutes. But the energy-saving equipment should reduce costs in the long run.
"Manitou needs to get up ahead of the curve on changes that I hope will be happening at the state level," Feder says, noting Gov. Bill Ritter's emphasis on renewable energy. "It is great that we are starting this process."
To learn more or help out, contact Megan Day at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, weigh in with Manitou City Council members at manitousprings-co.gov/city_council_members.asp.