Larsen

This Rocket Scientist Has an Ambitious Climate Change Plan. And He's Running For Congress

A push to solve climate change with an "Apollo level" effort.

CARLY CASSELLA
29 NOV 2017
 

There's no other way to put it: Kristopher Larsen makes you feel lazy.

Growing up in Colorado, he wanted to be the first person on Mars. After receiving an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Colorado University and a PhD in Planetary Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis, Larsen was launched into the world of science.

 

Unfortunately, he never made it to Mars, but bouncing from grant to grant he has worked on missions for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

At the same time Larsen has been making his way through the solar system, he has also been working his way through the ranks of government. In his spare time, Larsen is the Mayor of Nederland, a small town of 1,500 tucked away in the Rocky Mountains just west of Boulder.

Now, Larsen has decided to run for Congress.

"While I'm Mayor and while I'm now campaigning for Congress, I don't sleep much," Larsen told ScienceAF in a telephone interview.

Standing up for science 

In the wake of a Trump presidency, Larsen has joined a larger movement of scientists who are running for office. But unlike so many of his counterparts, Larsen has done this before.

"I've been pushing this for 15 years so it's nice to see some movement and momentum," said Larsen.

"The very slim silver lining to the dark cloud we've been under all year. All these people coming out to talk and mobilize to try and return to some semblance of sanity."

 

Even before the 2016 election, Larsen was concerned about the state of American science. For years, he was discouraged by the way the federal government set its budget and research priorities. He knew the people making those decisions had no background in science.

"They didn't know what they were talking about," Larsen told us. 

"I mean how many times do you watch testimony or watch a hearing and the first thing out of a congressman's mouth is 'well I'm not a scientist, but …'"

If elected to Congress, Larsen wants to use the tools of science for good. And the first issue he wants to tackle? Climate change.

An Apollo level effort

When President Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, Larsen knew he had to do something. As a result, Nederland is one of the smallest towns in the US to have signed on to the Paris accord independently.

Pulling together a coalition of local businesses and community leaders, Larsen and his team have come up with an ambitious plan that would see his town's electrical grid go from 29 percent renewable energy to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.

 

And now, he wants to make that change on a larger scale.

Meaningful action on climate change is one of the top issues Larsen is running on. There are three other democratic candidates running for a seat in Larsen's Congressional district. They all agree climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and needs to be solved. But Larsen's plans are more aggressive.

"Personally, I am a fan of what I am calling an Apollo level effort," he said, referring to the space program of the '60s and '70s.

"We need to pull all of our scientific, technical and engineering resources to the goal of getting our country off fossil fuels by 2035."

To achieve such a goal demands an aggressive growth of public transportation, and requires huge investments in research, development, and construction of next-generation power grid and electrical storage infrastructure.

These are a few other policy goals Larsen is proposing to make his plan a reality:

1) Require oil and gas companies to map and disclose all pipelines.

2) Require fracking companies to disclose the exact composition of their fracking fluids.

 

3) Aggressively grow public transportation, particularly light rail to Boulder and Longmont.

Plus, he says, we need to scale back or eliminate the 20 billion dollars of subsidies currently given to oil and gas exploration, and use them instead to subsidize investment in renewables.

All of this needs to happen now, says Larsen, while we still have a chance.

"Because if we wait until 2050 or 2060 - like some people are saying - we are going to be spending all our country's resources mitigating climate disasters instead of preventing them," Larsen told ScienceAF.