“We didn’t have control over whether or not a tornado came here, but we did have control over how we reacted to it.”
In spring of 2007, a series of deadly storms devastated the Midwest. It was the most intense tornado season the region had seen in 50 years and the city of Greensburg, Kansas saw the worst of it. In a matter of minutes, hundreds of families were made homeless. After the skies cleared, Greensburg residents emerged from their tornado shelters to a grim new landscape: 95 percent of the buildings in the town were just rubble.
Having experienced the devastation of extreme weather and environmental disaster firsthand, residents of Greensburg were prepared to take immediate action. When it came time to rebuild, Mayor Bob Dixson prioritized sustainability. The tornado “gave us the opportunity to look at how we could be sustainable for future generations,” he said, and set his sights on building a green community from the ground up.
He – and the rest of Greensburg – were as good as his word. Integrating sustainability into almost every aspect of daily life, Greensburg became the first city in America to use LED light bulbs to power its streetlights. City architects designed new municipal buildings to achieve the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation for energy efficiency. Skylights and south-facing building orientations maximized the power of natural daylight and reduced the need to use electric lighting and heating. In fact, Greensburg now has more LEED Platinum buildings – the council’s highest and most stringent standard – per capita than anywhere in the world, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in energy costs.
But the greening of Greensburg didn’t stop with energy conservation. Within a few short years, 100 percent of the electricity used in Greensburg came from renewable sources, thanks to the Greensburg Wind Farm, which produces 12.5 MW of electricity – enough to power every house, business, and government building in the town.
Today, wind power is the very foundation of Greensburg’s economy, an irony not lost on the town’s citizens. “The very wind that destroyed this town in the tornado is now the wind we’re utilizing to power the town,” says Mayor Dixson. “We didn’t have control over whether or not a tornado came here but we did have control over how we reacted to it.” The city of Greensburg came together to redefine what it means to be a community, with residents recognizing their responsibility to take care of one another and people all over the globe.
To Mayor Dixson, sustainability is “about leaving the world a better place for future generations, but it’s gotta start in our local communities. If we each change our habits, we can change the world.” Or to put it another way, climate change may be a global challenge, but individual actions can make a huge difference.
IT’S CLEAR: TIMES ARE CHANGING
Greensburg, Kansas has done a great job of leading the global energy transition and proves that the rest of the world can go renewable right now.
But the winds of change aren’t just blowing through our homes and businesses. We can also fight climate change by supporting leaders who are done talking about climate solutions and ready to make them a reality. We deserve a future powered by clean energy, and we deserve leaders that know how to make it happen. Do something easy that makes a big difference — take the Reality Pledge now!