June 21, 2024 10:00am

Climate Change

Most respondents support public-sector efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are taking action themselves.

Photo of Scott Barker
Knoxville, TN Correspondent
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A NASA analysis of global temperature data has confirmed that 2023 was the warmest year on record. The Earth was about 2.5 degrees warmer last year than the average during the late 19th century, when modern record-keeping began. Every month in 2023 from June through December set a global record — July was the hottest month ever recorded — and that trend has continued into 2024.

Individuals, communities and some industries have been taking steps to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, and East Tennessee is no exception. This month’s Power Poll asked members about local efforts, including their own.

The Power Poll is not a scientific poll, but a survey of local leaders and decision-makers in the civic, business and nonprofit sectors. The poll was sent to 865 members, and 327 responded, for a response rate of 37.8 percent.

Knoxville city government has set ambitious sustainability goals. The city aims to reduce its carbon emissions from public buildings and vehicle fleets by 50 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2030, a goal that is within reach. The ultimate goal is to achieve an 80 percent reduction citywide, including the private sector, by 2050.

Nearly half of responding Power Poll members said that’s a realistic goal. Twenty-nine percent said it was unrealistic, while one-fourth were unsure.

Respondents overwhelmingly said Knox County government should join the city in a joint sustainability effort. Three quarters endorsed a joint initiative, with 18 percent opposed and 8 percent unsure.

Electric power production accounts for about a quarter of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere in the United States. The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2035 and achieve net-zero by 2050. TVA plans to expand its nuclear fleet, add solar capacity, modernize the power grid and take other steps to meet its goals.

The federal utility has begun retiring its coal-fired power plants, in some cases replacing them with natural gas generating units. Natural gas releases smaller amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so the switch isn’t universally welcomed by environmental advocacy groups.

A staggeringly large majority of Power Poll respondents — 83 percent — supported TVA’s approach. Ten percent disagreed with the strategy and 8 percent were unsure.

Nearly three-fourths of respondents said they and their families are taking steps personally to reduce their carbon footprint — by weatherizing their homes, setting their thermostats higher in summer and lower in winter, driving electric or hybrid vehicles, driving less, and other measures.

Greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, so dramatically reducing emissions now won’t undo the damage that has already been done. Global warming causes heavier rainfall in some places and increases the likelihood of drought in others. It can force changes in agriculture, flora and fauna, and health risks.

Sixty-eight percent of Power Poll respondents expect to see the local effects intensify during the next decade, but 21 percent don’t anticipate conditions to worsen.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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