City Climate Corner

Flagstaff AZ: The Case for Carbon Dioxide Removal

Episode Summary

Driven by community members, in 2020 Flagstaff declared a climate emergency and adopted an aggressive goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. We interview Flagstaff Climate Analyst Ramon Alatorre and learn how that goal led the city to identify carbon dioxide removal (CDR) as a necessity and about their first "concrete" steps to implement a CDR program.

Episode Notes

Driven by community members, in 2020 Flagstaff declared a climate emergency and adopted an aggressive goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. We interview Flagstaff Climate Analyst Ramon DC Alatorre and learn how that goal led the city to identify carbon removal as a necessity and about their first "concrete" steps to implement a carbon removal program.


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than sixty percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And, I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Abby Finis  00:30

Hey, Larry.

Larry Kraft  00:31

Hey, Abby.

Abby Finis  00:32

Is there anything Minnesotans like to talk about more than the weather?

Larry Kraft  00:40

I don't know. But it's hot here lately.

Abby Finis  00:43

It's hot. And that's all we talk about.

Larry Kraft  00:46

Except in the winter when we talk about it's cold or it's not as cold as it used to be.

Abby Finis  00:51

It's true. And then we're careful about pining for the winter, because we're like, well, we don't want it that cold but something moderate would be nice. We're aiming for our second day of 100 this summer, which is we might get one every few years.

Larry Kraft  01:08

Well, it also points out the stuff going on in Europe right now. Somewhere in the UK was for the first time ever going to hit 104 degrees.

Abby Finis  01:17

Yeah, Spain, France, the UK all under a pretty hot, intense heatwave.

Larry Kraft  01:23

How do you stay cool, Abby?

Abby Finis  01:25

Well, I think we're pretty lucky in Minneapolis that we have a number of lakes that are swimmable and a lot of recreation can happen on them no matter the season. I actually have signed up for sailing classes this summer. I will be going to that in a couple hours here and you better believe I will be jumping off of that boat.

Larry Kraft  01:45

I was gonna say it wouldn't matter than if you didn't do well and actually flipped the boat because then you get nice and cool.

Abby Finis  01:52

Fortunately, we're on a boat that it's impossible to capsize. They've got a swimming ladder. So we are practicing man overboard today. So it's perfect. How about you?

Larry Kraft  02:05

I was paddleboarding yesterday. And it was lovely because I live fairly close to a lake, brought it over there, jumped in paddled around a bit and then took a lovely nap in the middle of the lake on the paddleboard.

Abby Finis  02:18

Sounds nice. Yeah, the lakes are also warm, you know. And that's one of the things that we were talking about. We went paddleboarding on Saturday. And one of the things we're talking about is how if this continues to warm and toxic algae blooms happen, and the lakes just aren't refreshing any more than one of our greatest assets in the city is lost. It feels like the alarm is being raised among people around the world, that these things keep on happening. And there's wildfires, and we talked about the heat waves. And yet, we are still faced with Republican senators and Joe Manchin, not coming through on climate policy.

Larry Kraft  02:59

Oh, gosh, that was so disappointing. I guess not unexpected, considering how long this has been dragging on, but that he pulled out of passing some climate legislation after negotiating for months, and really hinting that he would support it is just disappointing is an understatement.

Abby Finis  03:22

I think a lot of people are thinking about, you know, where do we go from here? We talked before about the West Virginia versus EPA decision from the Supreme Court, which didn't end up being as bad as people were thinking it was going to be, but it's still something that hampers the administration's ability to do something. And from a federal standpoint, that's kind of what we have left, there's not going to be legislation, thinking through what these local solutions look like. And we've talked a lot about reducing emissions in communities. We've talked about resilience, we've talked about creating jobs through solar development, those kinds of things. But one thing we haven't talked about is the need that we're actually going to have to not only reduce emissions down to zero, but we're going to have to remove carbon from the atmosphere. And it's something that's starting to be on the radar of a few cities.

Larry Kraft  04:13

Yeah, not without its controversies as well. But I was excited to really have this discussion with folks in Flagstaff and learn about some things that they're doing and thinking about.

Abby Finis  04:24

So there are a number of different methods for carbon removal, and they're exploring some options along with some other cities. And so I think it is a really interesting conversation and one that we're going to need to have. It's about kind of a both and situation of reducing emissions and then ultimately needing to remove some of the existing CO2 from the atmosphere as well. 

Larry Kraft  04:45

Let's do it. 

Abby Finis  04:46

Let's do it.

Start of interview

Larry Kraft  04:50

Today we are speaking with the Climate and Energy Coordinator for the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, Ramon Alatorre. Ramon welcome to City Climate Corner. Can you start by introducing yourself and telling us about your role at the city?

Ramon Alatorre  05:06

My name is Ramon Alatorre. I'm actually now the Climate Analyst. Titles have changed somewhat recently, with the city of Flagstaff. I have been with the city since January of 2020. And I like to tell the story that was actually my second day on the job when the community came to a city council meeting. And they spent about three to four hours petitioning the council to officially declare a climate emergency. And so on day two, I was like, Oh, I guess my job has changed. So then part of a small team that has helped to steer the ship a little bit and have community conversations and do a lot of the engagement work to give some vision as to what it is that we're doing from a climate perspective.

Larry Kraft  05:49

Well, as we were chatting before, there's a lot we are excited to dig into. But before we get too far, can you just tell us a bit about Flagstaff?

Ramon Alatorre  05:58

Sure. We are a community that doesn't look like what most people think of when they think of Arizona. We're in northern Arizona, we're actually at 7000 feet. And we're at the base of a nice little mountain and the largest Ponderosa forest in the world. So we're not so saguaros and sand dunes. We are forest and mountain. A beautiful little town, most recent census is showing that we're a little bit over 70,000 people in population. We have been growing a lot recently, certainly one of the pressures that I know a lot of communities are dealing with. We actually have cold winters, when we have conversations about fuel switching and other things in this community, people are concerned with like, are we going to be able to be warm enough? Again, not what people think of when they think of Arizona problems.

Carbon Neutrality Plan

Larry Kraft  06:43

Well, we resonate with you on cold winters. Flagstaff recently adopted a carbon neutrality plan. Can you explain that and what the goals of the plan are?

Ramon Alatorre  06:54

Well, it goes back to my second day on the job. The carbon neutrality plan came out of the climate emergency declaration, and that was all community driven. You know, it was the community that brought forward a two page resolution and said, counsel, we want you to adopt this, that two page resolution that set out the goals, set up the timeline and set out the how we want to accomplish all of this. So really, that's the founding document. That's the document that gave us a little bit of direction. When doing engagement and the development of the carbon neutrality plan we would say the goals and the timeline have been set already. We're not trying to discuss should it be 2030? Should it be 2040? That resolution was brought forward by the community and it was adopted by council now we're trying to figure out how to get there. 

Ramon Alatorre  07:39

In some ways those discussions were set just by what the community brought forward. Given the timeline, given the goal of carbon neutrality. How do we go about trying to accomplish this goal, and somewhat simplistically, the recipe is we need to try to decarbonize all the sectors as quickly as possible. But because 2030 was the timeline, it was quickly apparent, we're not going to be able to decarbonize to zero by 2030. There's going to have to be another pillar to what it is that we are going to need to do in order to be carbon neutral. And that's going to be removal. And that is a conversation that a lot of communities began having. 

Ramon Alatorre  08:20

My sincere belief that the reason carbon neutrality was selected as a goal. And when you look at that two page declaration, it's apparent that there's a lot of climate literacy in our community. They're referring to the IPCC reports, which have pretty clearly been saying for a little while now that we have dragged our feet and arrived at a point in history where decarbonisation alone is not going to be sufficient. We're going to have to figure out how to remove legacy emissions from the atmosphere in order to achieve climate stabilization, that the goals of either 1.5 degrees Celsius or or even two degrees, we're going to have to have large scale removal as part of that. 

Ramon Alatorre  08:59

So when our community is referring to those IPCC reports, and they are choosing the goal of carbon neutrality, recognizing that the only way to get there is going to be to have removal as a part of the portfolio, then we had to have additional conversations about what does that removal look like? It was not staff that picked the goal it was not staff at pick the time it was staff that then had the conversations to figure out how do we move forward with those goals and those timelines? 

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)

Abby Finis  09:27

That's a really interesting point, because a number of plans do talk about offsets. There's an acknowledgement you know, that they're not necessarily going to be able to get down to zero by whatever set date. But this goes further and talks about carbon dioxide removal. Can you share with us what that even is?

Ramon Alatorre  09:44

It's about those legacy emissions, trying to figure out how to remove emissions from the atmosphere. It can be done in a number of different ways. Some of the ways that are best known are like plant a lot of trees, but even looking at some of those reports that is a recognition that nature based solutions, there may not be enough land on Earth in order to plant trees our way out of this mess. So we're gonna have to look at other options as well. They may be in the techno space in the engineering space that has some limitations and difficulties as well. But acknowledging that, yes, we need to turn off the faucet as quickly as possible. But we also need to drain the tub, we need to do both.

Abby Finis  10:25

You mentioned the biological nature base. And I think you're right, most people are pretty familiar with tree planting and biological measures. But what about some of these technological and geological and maybe combinations of those options is the city looking at?

Ramon Alatorre  10:43

We have to acknowledge that a lot of those things are very much at the nascent emerging phase of their development. There's not going to be any silver bullet, but what are going to be some of the like useful bullets in the chamber, we're interested in a lot of them. We're currently having conversations to see what we could do to bring carbon dioxide removal technology in the built environment. And so concrete, for example, has some interesting applications. And it's one of those where you can make a useful product out of it to the Flagstaff, we build a lot of sidewalks, some of our parking and things, some of the buildings that we have in a fifth, there was an opportunity to have captured carbon dioxide be a part of a useful product, carbon dioxide removal and utilization. 

Ramon Alatorre  11:27

There's some interest in that because you have a useful and potentially economically interesting product. But there's also going to be likely a very big need to simply sequester it without it necessarily having some sort of utility. Figuring out geological sequestration or even mineralization, that mountain that I was mentioning, we have a lot of volcanic geology around us. And there's some interest in exploring the chemistry of some of those minerals around. There's actually a local professor at NAU that has been working on some research in this area and, and seeing if we might be able to more or less create, like an engineered system, where we would be able to, they call it enhanced rock weathering, but essentially speed up, because plants aren't the only things that sequester carbon. Geology does too it's just usually not in the timescales that we're needing to talk about. So trying to figure out how to create an engineer process to be able to expose some of those materials in a way that would durably and permanently capture carbon that we're pulling out of the atmosphere. 

Ramon Alatorre  12:32

So there's a lot of things that we think have some potential and we're interested in having those conversations. How do these ideas bring jobs to potentially a completely new sector? I think it was Credit Suisse, it's an insurance companies that I think gets credit for saying it the first time. It took a multi trillion dollar industry to put all of those emissions into the atmosphere, it's going to be the next multi trillion dollar industry to pull it all out. And we can start imagining what is it that looks like from a job standpoint? From an economic standpoint? 

Ramon Alatorre  13:05

It is very early, and we just we want to be part of this conversations. One of our theories is that fact that we've started talking about it, you know, I get to now have conversations with you. I've been connected to Boulder County in Colorado, and we're actively working on developing what's known as the Four Corners carbon dioxide removal coalition. And we wouldn't be doing any of that if it weren't for the fact that we took an early step, say we need to talk about this. We can't just be satisfied with offsets, which is what our community was telling us.

Abby Finis  13:36

Sounds like you're extending the whole portfolio and haven't landed on one technology, maybe like use multiple.

Ramon Alatorre  13:42

Yeah, it's very much a portfolio thesis that we have.

Flagstaff’s role in CDR

Abby Finis  13:45

Yeah, what role do you see the city playing in this? Is it putting in funding towards things? Would it be having things on site within the community? Or how do you envision that happening? Or maybe that's not figured out yet either.

Ramon Alatorre  13:57

It is that portfolio approach exactly what project it'll be, seems like it continues to develop every month. That four corners coalition that I was mentioning, we are looking to put out an RFP in the near future for carbon dioxide removal in the built environment potentially specifically associated with concrete. The idea behind that project is actually borrowing a lot from the solar development and how communities would often band together and aggregate resources versus a solarized campaigns, where it would often be like individuals signing up and saying, I want to be a part of this larger campaign, you get 200 people that sign up for it, and then you're able to get a bulk discount. 

Ramon Alatorre  14:42

It's a sort of similar idea of trying to get other communities and say, you know, we don't individually have a billion dollars, like put up and ask for somebody to respond to our desire for a carbon dioxide removal project, but maybe if we get a handful of communities together each putting in some resources as much as they're able, then suddenly, you've got an interesting sum of money and potentially have some attention. That could be like, Hey, we're helping a dozen cities with this innovative idea where we put our product in each of those cities. And it's creating jobs. And it's creating value and things like that. 

Ramon Alatorre  15:20

That's one of the things that we're moving forward with. And we have narrowed towards the concrete space more than likely for the first iteration of an RFP. But we also imagine hopefully putting together a model that other communities could use as well. And maybe there'll be some coastal communities that would say, Hey, we're all interested in some of these options that are associated with oceanic approaches to this and there could be some others that maybe aren't necessarily interested in concrete. But we even could be one of these where biochar is an interesting carbon dioxide removal idea that also has the benefit of removing what we call liability biomass from our overgrown forest. So maybe there'll be a handful of communities from places that have overgrown forests and are at risk of wildfire. And they're wanting to figure out how can we bring companies or ideas and organizations that would be able to like, solve two problems together and do it in a collaborative aggregated resources approach? 

Ramon Alatorre  16:22

It would not surprise me if we go down a biochar route at some point in the future. We've got a pretty big chunk of our plan, if you will, that is going to need to go from being a little bit fuzzy to like having those lines sharpened. And it's going to be in that always keeping ears to the ground and always trying to hustle up collaboration opportunities and figuring out how to go down that route. Because there's a pretty big gap between what we think we're going to be able to do in the next eight years in terms of the decarbonisation and what's going to be remaining.

Versus decarbonization

Abby Finis  16:58

To that point, I imagine there's some criticism that's coming, that these kind of carbon removal strategies might detract from the decarbonization strategies. So how do you address that?

Ramon Alatorre  17:08

The way we address it is, do we acknowledge and we say, but it's got to be a both and. We go back to the tub analogy, we have to turn off the faucet that's the stop the emissions, that's the decarbonize, but we also have to drain. We understand this occasional zero sum thinking that resources can only go towards one or the other. But frankly, we've arrived at a moment in history where the zero sum thinking won't be sufficient. 

Ramon Alatorre  17:34

We acknowledge on the one hand, but we don't allow that to be paralyzing. And say that we're not going to move forward with exploring what it is that we can do to contribute to even just changing the narrative on carbon dioxide removal. In some ways, being comfortable with that sort of uncomfortable like arrow that can be slung to say, you know, you're allowing this to be a distraction and to absorb it. And so we won't allow it to be a distraction. But we also need to shift the narrative a little bit if we can be contributing to that shift in narrative and helping to bring forward what is being clearly said in these IPCC reports that it does have to be that both and approach and maybe that's also got some merit and value in what we're doing as well.

Larry Kraft  18:24

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Why Flagstaff?

Larry Kraft  18:41

That's kind of a good segue to the next question. As you said, Flagstaff, the city of a bit over 70,000 people now. And I think when the data that we looked at on some of the reports you have is that by 2030 still be emitting probably half a million tons of CO2, which is a significant amount but relative to global emissions it's a small bit. So why is leadership from a city like Flagstaff important?

Ramon Alatorre  19:08

I think sometimes smaller cities think that they're at the mercy of larger actors that opportunity to show that hey, we can band together with Boulder and small mountain communities in Utah and hopefully also New Mexico. It shows some of what's possible. But you're right, Flagstaff's carbon dioxide removal efforts are not going to be the thing that stabilize climate. I think our community believes that leadership is needed and that leadership doesn't necessarily have to just come top down. We believe that we're climate literate, and that doing our part is what we can do to hopefully show a path forward. We would love for this local government coalition's to be something that pop up a dozen more times without Flagstaff necessarily being fiscally involved.

Collaboration and the Four Corners Coalition

Larry Kraft  20:03

Abby and I totally resonate with that. If everyone were to sit around and wait for a bigger player to do something, things would never happen would happen more slowly. It's the smaller, nimble grassroots stuff that is always the one making change. And in fact, this podcast is about trying to highlight these great stories so that they are replicated. With that, can you tell us more about this four corners CO2 coalition? Both as a podcast co-host, and also as a city council member at a climate literate city in Minnesota. So how did it form? Like, how did this come together?

Ramon Alatorre  20:41

It all started it in May of 2021. It was actually shortly before council had officially adopted the carbon neutrality plan. We had been doing a tremendous amount of community engagement, there was a draft plan out that was showing that there's a significant amount that's going to require carbon dioxide removal. And there was a question of, how are we going to do it? And I delivered a presentation to council to lay out some of the options from the nature base to the technology enabled and otherwise. 

Ramon Alatorre  21:15

After I gave that presentation, the Open Air Collective, we caught their attention. They got in touch with us, their advocacy group for carbon dioxide removal. They said, We're fans of what we saw. And we were glad that you all are talking about that, how can we help? And at first, we didn't know how they could help. But we were glad to have as they call themselves our biggest cheerleaders. Within a month or two, then they connected us with Boulder County. And because Boulder County was starting to have some of those same talking points. So really, they facilitated that connection. And we met with staff at Boulder County, and we agreed that our communities are philosophically aligned, and that we wanted to figure out how to move forward. 

Ramon Alatorre  21:55

And Boulder County, actually, they were immediately a little bit better resource than Flagstaff in the sense that when cannabis was being legalized in Colorado, they made some proactive plans to collect some tax money that was going to specifically go towards offsetting the emissions of the cannabis industry. And so they had a pot of money that was specifically we get to figure out how to dabble in the offset space or in the carbon dioxide removal space. And we want to figure out how to put that money to work. And before we had actually even been connected, they had gone through a process of putting out a request for proposals. And they looked at what they saw and they were somewhat let down. Even with the resources they had, they didn't have anything that they really wanted to move forward with in terms of a project. 

Ramon Alatorre  22:43

By themselves they weren't getting what it was that they were looking for. That began this well, how can we work together? And how can we aggregate resources? And maybe if it's not just Boulder County going and looking for project partners, but if it's Boulder County, in collaboration with Flagstaff, let's spend some time trying to spread the message and see if we could get some other communities involved. And let's raise the profile of this in a way that maybe we can take another run at this and see if we get a different level of response. Now it's not just Boulder County, but it is Flagstaff, the open air collective continues to be involved and we hosted a webinar, they were able to invite a dozen different companies that are dabbling in that carbon dioxide removal on concrete space. And without all of these players working together and lifting each other up to raise the profile of this thing, Boulder County might still be working a little bit more in the dark. We're a little bit more in the light now that we're all working together in that way. 

Ramon Alatorre  23:45

We've been able to get some resources to be able to contribute financially as well. Boulder was also for a long time, they're saying, you know, we don't even need you to like contribute that much fiscally sure has some skin in the game. But we're looking for more than thought partners, that leaders in this space to have these conversations with other communities who've been able to contribute as well, in addition to being able to secure some resources to be able to be involved in the coalition.

Larry Kraft  24:12

Is it possible for other cities to join?

Ramon Alatorre  24:15

Yeah, so the Solarize model, one of the things that's often kind of interesting about it is to get a small group together. The group is a big enough to like get it started and you put out your RFP, and you decide what project partner you want to move forward with. And then you often spend few months after your project partner is decided upon to go recruit, because often in the early stages, it just feels a little bit too fuzzy and you're like what is it going to be exactly and that's what we've found having conversations with quite a few communities is they're like, we like what you're saying somewhat philosophically, but we're having a hard time envisioning it. 

Ramon Alatorre  24:53

Now the vision is with our smaller group of core cities in the Four Corners area. We're trying to nail About our final cities in the four corners state to be those founding cities that will review proposals and such, we're looking forward to hopefully having a successful post project partner selection recruitment campaign, and seeing who else we might be able to bring to the table. We're expecting that that'll be some of our late summer, early fall is going to be sort of saying it's no longer fuzzy, we've got something that's a little bit more concrete, pun intended to be able to show you and say, if you want to participate in these efforts, this is what it would look like.

Overall interest in Carbon Dioxide Removal and funding sources

Larry Kraft  25:34

Are you finding that there are other funding potentially available outside of city efforts federal philanthropic, for the kind of stuff you're doing?

Ramon Alatorre  25:47

Yes, I suppose the shortest answer. Not long after we started talking about wanting to get involved with meaningful carbon removal and talking about the story of solar and how investment resulted in the cost curve declines that we've seen in the past decade. I actually highlighted, I believe it was stripe and Microsoft as being two companies that more or less had put forward, that thesis of what was necessary was early stage investment to start bringing down the cost curves. The last year, the number of companies that are signing on to that same thesis is astounding. Stripe, has now launched what I think is called their frontier platform and raised nearly a billion dollars in like a few month period of time. From lots of companies often in the tech sector, that are wanting to make investments and similar projects that Stripe was doing in their portfolio. And they were doing things in the concrete space in the mineralisation space, and a number of others as well, they had a real quick round of funding. 

Ramon Alatorre  26:57

And it now feels like every week, my news alerts on my phone are talking about all of the investments that are coming from the private industry for carbon removal. But also from the Department of Energy and I think they're even calling it carbon management now. There's a lot of work and conversations happening around some centralized projects. And even there's hubs of different types that are being spoken about hydrogen hubs, but also carbon dioxide removal hubs. There is this sense that there could be maybe some centralized infrastructure, if we're needing to ultimately sequester gigatons of carbon dioxide. And one of the better ways to transport all of that may be pipelines. And that might be something that would be more appropriate for federal government to take a leadership role on. And so we've actually sat in on a number of stakeholder meetings with Los Alamos National Labs, and I West initiative that is being discussed around both carbon dioxide removal and hydrogen hubs and a number of other things as well. 

Ramon Alatorre  27:58

And I believe the last number I saw was 3.5 billion as being what the federal government is putting towards some of these carbon dioxide removal specific projects. In addition to 45q tax credits and some other things that are out there as well to try to similar to the ITC, or the PTC maybe be a tax structure that would grease the wheels to spur on some of this innovation. There are things that are coming together. There was an X prizes involved, we know that sometimes prize style competitions, it's very shark tanky can be a way to see some of the best ideas that are out there and be able to put some funds towards those types of projects. So there's this burgeoning ecosystem, from government projects to private companies that are trying to put their balance sheets to work to prizes and other things. It's kind of a intertangled web. More and more, we're seeing that there are just a lot of stakeholders that are recognizing the need for this, both and turn off the faucet and drain the tub at the same time.

Flagstaff in 2030

Abby Finis  29:05

I think it's all really interesting. And what is fascinating to me is the timescale of everything. We have this 2030 timeline, this 2050 timeline, but these things take a really long time to get up and running and do the job that they're needing to do. And so I appreciate that you all are jumping on board and taking a role in advancing some of these technologies or exploring them. If you're successful, what does what does that look like? What does climate action look like in Flagstaff in 2030?

Ramon Alatorre  29:36

Well, we're still gonna have a lot of decarbonisation work to do come 2030. In some ways, I think there's a goal of being able to shrink that portfolio of removal projects over time, and an acknowledgement of not letting one rob from the other in terms of attention. We're going to need to figure out how to meet a removal obligation, but hopefully every year that removal obligation gets smaller, we're still going to have a lot of work to do to continue to help decarbonize our buildings to help our existing buildings use less energy and use cleaner energy. We're still gonna have a lot of work to do, on the transportation side of things, still continuing to dabble in that removal space. But hopefully, it'll be a little less obligation over time. 

Ramon Alatorre  30:15

We constantly are trying to put forward the idea that climate action is just building a stronger community more resilient community. We've actually, recently, I think we've already had two wildfires, right on the outskirts of town this year, we've had a fair bit of flooding happening, there's always going to be that adapt ation piece that needs to be part of our climate response, recognizing there is a certain amount that's already baked in, right, and we're gonna have to figure out how to support our vulnerable populations and be resilient to the shocks that are going to be coming. But we're also wanting to do our part to minimize the severity of those, when we apply a longer term lens.


Abby Finis  30:57

For the cities out there that maybe weren't thinking about this or just starting to think about this, what advice do you have?

Ramon Alatorre  31:03

I think, trying to just connect it to opportunity. And I think some people look at it, and they say that sounds expensive. And, certainly will require resources and investment and spending, but trying to help connect it to those ideas of investment. You invest for future dividends, and connecting it to an opportunity, whether it's trying to wrap your arms around the the next trillion dollar industry or even keeping it a little bit more local, we actually have a similar Shark Tank style contest that we've been doing for a couple of years. Innovate waste challenge that we this year applied the carbon neutrality lens to and we're interested to see what opportunities might come forward to be able to support local businesses that are trying to figure out a way to have a positive impact on any piece of the carbon neutrality plan. But including carbon dioxide removal, we have some of our best conversations when we're able to make sure that the framing is not just around fear or expense, but about opportunity, and then positioning Flagstaff to be one of the places where some of these jobs are happening or other things like that. Those seem to be when we have our most productive conversation.

Larry Kraft  32:26

If there were a city somewhere that was interested in being recruited, when you get to that phase, how would they let you know that?

Ramon Alatorre  32:38

Frankly, I get emails every week about that. That's been, we're kind of creating the list of people that are saying I heard what you're doing, either on the podcast, or we were featured in a Grist article or that my inbox is suddenly a lot more diverse than it used to be. Just get in touch with us. We're always eager to have this conversation.

Larry Kraft  33:02

Thank you, Ramon. This has been very educational.

Ramon Alatorre  33:08

I can honestly say I didn't know all of this when I started my my job the day before our climate emergencies declaration was requested by the community. But the community is what pushed me to have to learn a lot of this. And it really was so much about conversations with the community. As we started talking about the framework of carbon neutrality, it was clear that they were not going to be satisfied with offsets. I thank them for making it clear what they were and we're not going to be satisfied with and then we had to chase it down and get up to speed ourselves. I guess maybe that would be a parting word, if it's your learning about the work others are doing or if your community is pushing you in a direction to do something that you're not even up to speed on. Getting up to speed and finding the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other people that can raise all boats has been how we've had any success.

Larry Kraft  33:56

Great. Well, thank you again, so much.

Abby and Larry debrief

Abby Finis  34:01

Okay, Larry, would you think?

Larry Kraft  34:04

Well, first, and I mentioned this during the interview, I like how their actions derived from them having this aggressive long term goal, though not as that long term being 2030. When you start thinking in that, like, how do I get there and you start adding things up? You say, Wow, I can't quite get there. What else do I do and it leads you to this. So I appreciate that those kind of goals forced you to think differently, for sure to break out of boxes that you sometimes didn't even know you're in.

Abby Finis  34:38

Yeah. And I think there's a recognition that we're not going to get all our emissions down to zero by 2030. We'll have some remaining emissions and we want to offset that. But globally, we know that and he talked about this and from the IPCC is we both have to get to zero and we have to get continue to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And the longer we wait, the more we have to draw. The faster we reduce those emissions, the less we'll have to draw. Just kind of thinking beyond carbon neutral strategies to carbon negative strategies. I think there's something new or at the city level in terms of actually thinking about what it takes to execute that.

Larry Kraft  35:25

Yeah, as you raise it that way that the comment he made about, like someone at Credit Suisse or something said, well, it was a multi trillion dollar industry to put it up there in the atmosphere, we're going to need to spend a bunch of money to pull it out. And there's probably a big jobs angle there as well.

Abby Finis  35:42

There's a huge that's the thing about climate action is there's no reason to delay because there are so many benefits that come along with making our communities more resilient that come along with building out renewable energy, electrifying, you know, there's tons of jobs to be had cleaner air to be breathed. 

Larry Kraft  36:05

Much healthier lifestyle. 

Abby Finis  36:06

Exactly. more active lifestyle. So we know there's all these benefits. And the big problem is this multi trillion dollar industry that wants to keep it that way. Right. How do you combat that? How do you kind of reverse all of that without those companies being the ones that reap all the benefits too?

Larry Kraft  36:24

I don't know how to answer that. 

Abby Finis  36:25

Right? We sue them right?

Larry Kraft  36:28

Hawaii Maui, listen, go back and listen to that episode. Yeah, I want to throw one other thing out there. I really liked that this effort was driven by a climate emergency resolution, intent. Go listen to our Tacoma episode, that was driven by the community and the community set the goals. So if you're listening out there and thinking, Oh, I can't do anything in my community, you can you see it there. And where I live in St. Louis Park was initiated by young people that set the goals and then is changing the course of the city. You can see it in Flagstaff, it's happened where I live, all initiated by community members.

Abby Finis  37:06

Yeah, once they have that resolution, then, you know, it makes the plan a little bit easier to do, because you're like, Okay, well, let's create this plan that helps us to work toward achieving these goals versus also coming up with the goals while you're doing the plan, which you can totally do. But it's helpful to have that direction from the onset.

Larry Kraft  37:25

Ramon use this one image, which sticks with me the it ties back to what you're saying about needing to get to negative emissions. This is the idea of we filled up this tub. It seems like we've overflowed the tub. But we need to turn off the faucet and then we need to drain the tub. Yeah, get it back to a healthy place for society.

Abby Finis  37:50

Right, which, you know, you can dig into that metaphor can't make the tub any bigger. And where is it draining to? But I think that it's a good illustration of the tension that exists where we have to reduce emissions, we have to get them down. And we're gonna have to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It is both and and the longer we wait, the more we're gonna have to do it simultaneously. I do you think it's a tricky balance of where you place your priorities, especially at that local level, and trying to find a way to do both with limited funding.

Larry Kraft  38:27

Right. And this is an area where there is tension, there is some questions which way to go. But what I appreciate is that with a city like Flagstaff, you've got innovation happening here. You've got people trying stuff, and I wish them success. That's one of the things I've loved about our podcast is that you see cities trying all kinds of different things, and some will be successful and some won't. But that's how you make progress.

Abby Finis  38:51

There's a portfolio of different approaches that can be taken. And I think that's the kind of cool thing about the collaborative is Boulder County is specifically looking at regenerative agriculture and soil sequestration. Right. And so that's a that's a different approach. Then, if Flagstaff is looking into biochar, or some of these other direct air capture technologies, you start to get that quilted look of what assets do you have in your community and how can you contribute to pulling emissions from the atmosphere based on the strengths that you have? So I think that that matchup of different communities is really interesting and something that other communities across the country can look out.

Larry Kraft  39:32

I'm certainly going to be watching.

Abby Finis  39:36

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  39:59

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Our production assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by…

Abby Finis  40:08

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  40:10

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.

photos credit Jake Bacon, Flagstaff Sustainability Department