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Reno Leads On Climate Adaptation

According to a study by the Weather Channel and Climate Central, Reno is the fastest-warming city in the United States.

And Northern Nevada’s largest metro center faces other challenges related to climate change, too – it depends on the annual snowpack in the Sierra Nevada for its water, but overall snow levels have been declining over recent years.

In response to Reno’s unique challenges, the city council unanimously adopted the city’s first Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, a multi-year roadmap to lowering carbon emissions and improving the community’s resilience to the negative effects of climate change.

Lynne Barker is Sustainability Manager for the City of Reno. She drafted the plan with input from a diverse set of community groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Club.

She said the plan covers a number of strategies including using more clean and renewable energy, encouraging green building standards, establishing low-carbon neighborhoods, creating local markets for recyclables, and improving resilience to the effects of climate change.

"There is quite a bit of information out and research out which identifies the highest impact practices that cities can implement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," she said.


Barker said there are things Reno residents can do immediately to address the impacts of climate change like improving recycling efforts and reducing contamination of recyclables by knowing what can be recycled and what can't. 

She said corporations in the city and mining companies in the area are already leading the way on sustainability and the city will be looking to what has worked in other large and mid-sized cities to see what they can do.

"For us, since it is our first climate action plan, we're taking it small steps," she said, "Build some successes, get some success under our belt and then build from that."

Barker admits it is an ambitious plan and they have limited resources and staff to execute it but they're going to do what they can with what they have.

Barker and her team will have support from Reno's business community.

Ann Silver is CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. She’s a strong supporter of the initiative and served on the advisory committee that helped put it together.

Silver said businesses, especially small businesses, are feeling the impacts of a changing climate and are welcoming to the idea of helping to address the problem.

"We understand that clean and renewable energy resources are going to be critical particularly to businesses, small businesses most specifically, that wish to save costs on energy," she said.

Silver said the chamber was "honored" to be part of the effort to craft the new plan. She felt business owners brought a practical view to what changes can be made and how to implement those changes.

"I think businesses are citizens of our community," she said, "They live and work here and they want to be contributors to creating a much cleaner, renewable energy environment."

Professor John Scire teaches United States energy policy at the University of Nevada, Reno. He believes the city’s sustainability goals are within reach because the Silver State has ample opportunities to harvest renewable energy from solar and geothermal resources.

Plus, Scire said making sustainability a priority is a smart way to attract companies, especially high tech companies like Tesla and Google, to the area.

"It is a big deal to attract new business to appear to be very pro-sustainable," he said.

He believes once Reno achieves the goals laid on in its plan it will be one of the top cities in the country for sustainability.

Other cities with climate change plans have attached penalties and aggressive mandates for citizens and businesses but Barker said, for now, Reno is looking to encourage sustainability.

"We're really starting out and asking the community to partner with us before we start taking a look at regulations," she said.

Silver believes once people actually see the plan they'll embrace and won't have a problem taking the steps necessary to implement it.

"Everyone who chooses to live, work and play here feels the heat, sees the sun, knows the wind capacity, wonders if there will be a snowfall and how deep Tahoe will be in the summer," she said, "So, if you live here you're going to want to read this plan. You're going to want to know as a business what steps you can take."

She said the next action the chamber will take is to get the plan into the hands of everyone and especially into the hands of its members so they can distribute it to their employees. 

Lynne Barker, Sustainability Manager, City of Reno;  Ann Silver, CEO, Reno Chamber of Commerce;  John Scire, professor, University of Nevada, Reno

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.