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 May 06, 2020
Climate change is a 'death by a thousand cuts'

 Earth Day may have come and gone last month with relatively little fanfare, thanks to the statewide stay-at-home order banning public gatherings. But Nevada is still making progress toward the green goals set by lawmakers last year.

Environmental policy had a banner year in Nevada in 2019. In the spring, the Nevada Legislature passed bills setting mandates and deadlines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing renewable energy. In the fall, Gov. Steve Sisolak followed those up with an executive order laying out steps his administration needs to take in order to meet those goals.

Among them was the creation of a new position --- climate policy coordinator --- who would help develop policies, budgets and plans for addressing the climate crisis.

Earlier this month, the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced UNLV research professor Kristen Averyt will fill the role. Averyt's research focuses on climate resilience and sustainability. She previously served as president of the Desert Research Institute, and as part of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change she won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Averyt will be a liaison between state agencies, academics and communities, making sure everyone understands the impact climate change is having and making sure they are all working toward the same goals. She will continue to hold a professor position at UNLV.

Sisolak's executive order mandated the development of a 'state climate strategy' that recommends policies that can be used to achieve the goals by the Legislature. Those goals include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 --- a standard set by the United Nations in what is known as the Paris Agreement. President Trump withdrew the United States from that agreement, prompting dozens of governors to sign an alliance vowing to meet the standard voluntarily.

According to a 2019 report on greenhouse gas emissions, Nevada isn't currently projected to meet the 2025 greenhouse gas emissions goal, but it isn't wildly far off.

Averyt says she's optimistic they can get there. She points to a new 'emissions inventory' conducted by the state for that same report. The inventory lists the sources of emissions.

"This will allow us to be strategic and tactical," said Averyt. "It's important to know this strategy isn't going to be one and done. It's laying groundwork to stitch climate change into long-term strategic planning, so we consider it during any initiative."

Also mandated by the executive order is the submission of a climate strategy plan that recommends specific policies Nevada could adopt in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That report is due by Dec. 1, 2020.

Among things that might be included in a plan: charging transportation impact fees for construction projects that will create more traffic, incentivizing low- or zero-emission vehicles, raising vehicle emission standards as California has, or speeding up the retirement of the state's two operating coal plants. (One of those plants, North Vahly is scheduled to be phased out by its owner, NV Energy, in 2025. The other, TS coal plant, is privately owned and used predominantly to power gold mining in the state. It's largely flown under the radar in statewide discussions about clean energy.)

Averyt declined to share her opinion on which suggestions might work best for Nevada.

"Nothing is off the table," she said. "We have a lot of things we need to consider."

Averyt believes now --- in the middle of a pandemic --- is good a time as any to have those discussions about priorities. If nothing else, the coronavirus has shown that people are capable of reacting quickly if a threat seems imminent.

"People talk about a 'new normal,'" she said. "The new normal is abnormal. We know we're warming and that there are cascading impacts of climate change. We don't know what will come next. Whatever does happen, we need to minimize or mitigate."

Climate change, like the coronavirus, needs to fundamentally change the way people think and how they behave, she adds. It hasn't all clicked in our collective psyche because the results of warming are spread out and show themselves in different times and different places. Wildfires here. Urban heat island there. Prolonged drought season there. Flooding elsewhere.

Averyt uses a boxing analogy: If the coronavirus pandemic was a boxing opponent, it would be a showy fighter who delivers a knockout blow in the first or second round. The virus --- and the steps taken to mitigate its spread --- have brought economies to a standstill. And almost overnight people have had to adjust accordingly.

Now consider climate change.

"It's more like the boxing match that goes on and on, hit after hit," says Averyt. "It might not be a knockout but somebody falls in the end. That is a death by a thousand cuts."