WEST LAFAYETTE — A week after West Lafayette High School students led a climate strike march to city offices, pressing Mayor John Dennis for local action on what they called a crisis situation of global proportions, the city put itself on the clock Monday with an intention to reduce its carbon emissions by 20% every four years.

In a non-binding resolution, similar in aim and tone to ones passed in a handful of Indiana cities, West Lafayette City Council members said they were on board with groups of high school and Purdue University students who had been pushing for a city statement and commitment on climate change.

The vote was unanimous.

“I challenge any one of you not to be affected by their passion and their focus and their belief in how we can do a much better job for our planet,” Dennis said, pointing to council chambers crowded with some of the same faces that led the march to the city offices on Sept. 27.

At that rally, Dennis talked about plans to bring the resolution, which makes a list of promises based on studies by the Purdue Climate Change Research Center findings that have “determined that with continued business-as-usual and no attempted reduction in carbon emissions, the Midwest can expect increased risks to public health, infrastructure and agriculture due to increased heat wave intensity and frequency, more extreme droughts, increased heavy rain events and flooding, decreased agriculture yield, and degraded air and water quality.”

Among the promises signed off on by the nine-member council, the city: set a goal to reduce emissions by 20% every four years; said it intends to review emission reduction goals based on an updated climate action plan at the end of 2022 and then every five years after that; plans to work with the Environmental Resilience Institute’s Reliance Cohort to track the city’s greenhouse gas emissions; and plans to work in the community “to support individual lifestyle changes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The resolution, packed with “intends to” statements, comes without the guarantees of an ordinance. But those lobbying for it – primarily students from Purdue and from the West Lafayette Climate Strike Students, a group of high students formed in May – called it a start.

“I’ve always seen West Lafayette as a city three steps ahead of everyone else,” said Lily Shen, a West Lafayette High School student who noted that other Indiana cities — Carmel, Lawrence, Bloomington, Indianapolis and Goshen, among them — had some sort of statement or action plan on the climate.

“But in this respect, we are behind,” Shen said. “And there’s no excuse.”

Speakers at Monday night’s meeting came with the same sort of assurances they delivered during the climate strike a week earlier, about how climate science points to a grim future for today’s youth if something isn’t done.

No one spoke against the resolution Monday night — though skeptics aired their doubts on social media about the climate strikers and the city’s proposal after Dennis introduced it.

“Let’s pass this resolution unanimously so that we can be efficient in decreasing our carbon footprint by 20% every four years in our city,” Annabel Prokopy, a West Side student and an organizer of the West Lafayette Climate Strike, said. “Because the longer that we wait, the scarier it will get.”

Iris O’Donnell Bellisario, a Purdue student studying natural resources and environmental sciences, said she’d spent the past six years working on Dennis to make West Lafayette better prepared for climate change. She told council members that “the goal of carbon neutrality by 2040 may seem like a stretch goal,” but the city could do it if it made the commitment to do it.

“I want to see the city of Lafayette do a similar thing,” O’Donnell Bellisario said after Monday’s meeting. “They have more control over their large emitters, so I’m hoping for an all-hands-on-deck approach. Otherwise, I want to bring this policy to a larger level and start to meet with state level leaders.”

David Sanders, an at-large council member, said that he’d devoted much of his career at a biologist at Purdue and as an activist to questions about climate change. He said he hoped West Lafayette’s vote would persuade others.

“West Lafayette can’t do this alone,” Sanders said. “I really wish these students more success than I’ve had in terms of bringing it to people’s attention. I believe this is the time. We are at a crisis moment — I believe we’ve been at a crisis moment for a long time.”

Zachary Baiel, who is running against Dennis as an independent candidate for mayor in the November elections, criticized the resolution for not going far enough. He said the measure was light on specifics, particularly when it came to measuring goals and holding the city accountable.

Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, said the resolution had both symbolic and practical value. He said it sets an expectation that the city “will be pushing hard to reduce its impact on climate change down to zero, and quickly.”

“And it codifies the city’s intention to educate the public and support ‘lifestyle changes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions,’ which I read as things like promoting development that minimizes transportation demands and supporting transportation alternatives,” Dukes said. “And it was pushed by the city’s children and young adults, which I think gives it higher moral standing. I’m optimistic that, with this on the books, some changes can happen even faster.”

Dennis talked Monday about the city’s efforts so far, including the installation of roundabouts to replace traditional four-way stops, a dedicated tree-planting program, the addition of solar panels on the city’s planned recreation center and a 10-year-old bio-energy project at the city’s wastewater treatment plant that takes food waste and produces electricity to help run the facility. (David Henderson, the city’s utility director, said the effort produces up to 20 percent of the power needed to run the wastewater treatment plant.)

But Dennis seemed to rally around the youth aspect Monday night, as he had when he joined the climate strikers on Sept. 27. After the vote, Dennis met in a hallway of the former Happy Hollow Elementary, temporary home to city hall, and gave the students a bit of a pep talk, telling them to stay involved, to keep pushing the city and to, one day, consider running for public office.

As he walked back into the council chamber, Dennis whispered in passing: “That’s the future out there.”

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