Reject Flagstaff First’s changes to Carbon Neutrality Plan

Dear Mayor and Council:

There are two or more opinions regarding every policy adopted by City Council. All citizens have the right to be heard by Council. Nonetheless, such hearings must withstand a test of reasonableness if for no other reason than Council and staff otherwise would get nothing done. Importantly, in the current national crisis of disinformation it is incumbent upon leaders such as yourselves to ground your deliberations in fact and refuse to engage in prolonged discussions with those who deny facts.

Furthermore, Council should very cautiously approach petitions seeking to revise work that has recently had months of public input, staff effort, and Council consideration. With these principles in mind, I have watched with growing alarm the efforts of Flagstaff First to amend the Carbon Neutrality Plan (CNP).

In 2021, Council adopted the CNP, which was the culmination of over a year’s work by citizens, staff, and Council. The work included review and consideration of differing scientific, engineering, and economic approaches to the worldwide climate crisis. After experience with the plan, staff recommended changes which were made by Council in 2022. Since its adoption, the CNP has been repeatedly cited, along with the Regional Plan, for its guiding principles in Council decisions.

In April of 2023, a new for-profit corporation with the business purpose of being a “social organization” registered with the Arizona Secretary of State, using the name “Flagstaff First.”

On May 2, 2023, Tom Pearson, representing Flagstaff First, addressed Council about the CNP “and the cost of implementation of the plan compared to the impact it can make, increased power demand, and the lack of alternative power.” He urged the Council to maintain “energy diversity.” Council Minutes, May 2, 2023. Mr. Pearson also left with Council a printout of a PowerPoint presentation, which is available from the City Clerk.  I was present at the May 2 meeting (for another purpose) and heard all of this. My reaction at the May 2 meeting was astonishment at Mr. Pearson’s lack of understanding of the science, engineering, economic, and political underpinnings of the topics he discussed, and I expected nothing further to come from such nonsense.

But I underestimated the determination of this new know-nothing corporation. On October 17, Flagstaff First representatives presented to Council a vague petition to amend the CNP’s priorities, signed by a few hundred residents and nonresidents, including Council Member Matthews.

This caused me to look deeper into what this organization is. I reviewed the PowerPoint presentation they presented in May and found it filled with talking points common among climate-science deniers. Its climate action proposals are laughable.  Among them that Flagstaff “become a leading center for forest preservation,” showing that Flagstaff First is unaware of the work of Wally Covington and the decades-long leadership of NAU, Coconino County, and other organizations in fire prevention, mitigation, and forest preservation. Their big idea: “Position firefighting aircraft at Pulliam during fire season.”  Is Flagstaff to buy and maintain an air fleet? Or does Flagstaff First think the federal government can provide every community in the West its own fleet, regardless of redundancy and the national shortage of pilots? These are not serious people.  

Their website is telling: They want to be “loud” and “protect Flagstaff.”  There are few specifics and all that appear focus on the CNP – one can only imagine what they will move to next. With regard to the CNP they provide a link from a green box labeled “Thinking Smartly About Climate Change,” a recent publication by the well-known but not well-regarded Bjorn Lomborg. See Joseph E. Stiglitz (Nobel Prize winner), Are We Overreacting on Climate Change? New York Times, 7/16/2020 (Reviewing Lomborg’s book, Stiglitz writes: “This book proves the aphorism that a little knowledge is dangerous. It’s nominally about air pollution. It’s really about mind pollution.”); Bob Ward, A closer examination of the fantastical numbers in Bjorn Lomborg’s new book, London School of Economics and Political Science, Grantham Institute, 8/10/2020 (“Lomborg’s arguments are based on fantastical numbers that have little or no credibility.”); Stepen, Bjørn Lomborg, just a scientist with a different opinion? Real Climate, 8/31/2015 (“Bjørn Lomborg is a well-known media personality who argues that there are more important priorities than reducing emissions to limit global warming.”)

In other words, Flagstaff First’s analysis of the CNP is founded on, at best, lazy and inaccurate science. At worst, they are (wittingly or unwittingly) part of the dangerous movement in the United States to ignore science and facts in an effort to attack government regulation for the benefit of wealthy oligarchs and ultimately undermine democracy. Democracy requires a consensus about what is true and what is fantasy.

As elected leaders in our community, Council has an obligation to reject this movement by giving short shrift to Flagstaff First’s petition. I would also advise staff to limit the time it spends trying to explain facts to knuckleheads.


Ann Heitland

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