On April 20, local climate activist Paula Kline gave an information-packed presentation on “Local Solutions for a Global Crisis”. I can’t imagine a better summary of the many ways residents in our area (or indeed, almost anywhere) can get involved in solving the climate crisis. You can find a Youtube recording of her presentation here.
Her slides can be viewed in the form of a document here.
Because Paula covered so much ground, I decided it would be worth recapping some of what she said, emphasizing what seems most important for us at Kendal. I have also tried to include as many links as possible to the organizations and documents Paula mentioned, so that you can explore her topics further.
Paula began her presentation by reviewing the recent UN climate reports. The need to reduce greenhouse gases is becoming extremely urgent. She listed the four basic steps that must be taken everywhere:
- Reduce energy demand (by making our buildings, transportation, and industries more efficient)
- Decarbonize electricity (by shifting all generation of electricity to renewables)
- Electrify everything (by converting all fossil-fuel uses to electricity)
- Carbon capture (by improved forestry and agriculture–hard to do on the necessary scale)
These steps must be taken at various levels, from individuals up to national governments.
Faith communities. Paula talked about the various religious organizations working on sustainability. Three in our area that she mentioned specifically are Interfaith Power and Light, GreenFaith, and CoolCongregations.
She spoke of the various Quaker efforts: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting efforts, such as the Eco-Justice Collaborative and the Quaker divestment initiative, the climate divestment of Friends Fiduciary Corporation (which holds the financial assets of many Quaker organizations), and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting climate report.
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting focuses on five areas for climate action: activism, education, carbon footprint reduction work, finance, and “mourning loss and instilling hope”. To these, the local Quaker association for our area (Concord Quarterly Meeting) has added disaster resilience.
Paula noted the activism of the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) protesting Vanguard’s huge investments in fossil fuel businesses.
Government. Paula showed a one-minute video that provided a powerful illustration of the outsize role that the US has played in greenhouse gas emissions since 1850. The video, which is well worth watching, is here. Although China is catching up, the US is still responsible for far more historical emissions than any other country.
The state of Pennsylvania is the 5th highest emitter in the US. Although lobbyists for fossil fuels try to control decisions in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania still has a respectable climate action plan. The key part is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which Governor Wolf has championed, and which is to take effect in July. All of the surrounding east-coast states are already RGGI members, and it has worked well to reduce emissions there. There is also state policy that is supportive of local bans on plastic bags.
Chester County, where Kendal is located, is the richest county in Pennsylvania and produces 2.5% of PA emissions. Paula reviewed the sectors that produce the most: commercial/industrial (43%), transportation (27%), then residential energy use (19%). (Kendal, with its high-voltage connection to the grid, is included in the commercial/industrial category.) Chester County has an Environmental and Energy Advisory Board and Paula suggests letting them know the urgency of climate issues. (I notice that the Board’s web page shows a vacancy for a member of the public. Would a Kendal resident like to apply?)
At the federal level, most of the relevant legislation is currently stuck in committee, and Paula did not specify federal actions to take right now. (But she did mention Third Act, below. And I would note that both SSAFE.org and our own Way Forward group are doing important advocacy work at the federal level.)
Non-governmental organizations in Chester County. Paula spoke of the roles of various non-governmental climate-oriented organizations in our county. There is an umbrella organization, the Chester County Environmental Alliance, to which most of them belong. Notable ones include PennEnvironment, Food & Water Watch, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Sierra Club (which Paula has been very active in), and PennFuture.
Paula spoke about the Ready for 100 program, run by the Sierra Club. 7 states and over 180 counties have now committed to a goal of 100% renewable energy. 15 municipalities in Chester County are among those that have made that commitment, and our own Kennett Township is among them.
Having made the commitment, what’s the next step for these places? They can hire a consultant to help them draft a plan, or they can follow the guidelines in the Department of Energy’s “Community Energy Strategic Planning Guide”. In any case, the broad outline is: (1) fix building performance and efficiency, (2) promote voluntary electrification, and (3) obtain renewable electricity.
Third Act. In addition to the opportunities for action listed above, Paula mentioned Third Act, the new effort by well-known climate activist Bill McKibben to mobilize the 60-and-over crowd to become more active in climate matters.
In conclusion, Paula listed some of the options we each have for getting involved in the climate effort. For Kendal residents, these include:
- Getting institutional commitments (could we get KCC to adopt a zero net carbon goal?)
- Influencing procurement decisions (are there low-carbon alternatives to the food we purchase, for example? Could we eliminate some use of plastics?)
- Energy production (can we buy or produce renewable electricity?)
- Transportation (when will we switch to buying electric vehicles?)
- Electrification of heating and cooling (where do we still use fossil fuels?)
- Planting trees (how can we optimize the natural uptake of carbon?)
- Personal choices (if I buy a new car, will it be electric?)
Community-wide involvement could include:
- Advocating with friends and family for the transition to renewable energy
- Public statements at local government meetings
- Support family members (help them to finance an electric vehicle or a highly efficient home)
- Help to fund local groups and projects
Possible involvement with local government:
- Getting involved in actions in neighboring townships
- Helping with adoption of resolutions and clean energy projects at schools and school districts
- Working on wastewater treatment efficiency (treatment uses a lot of energy)
- Help local governments draft climate action plans
- Support equity-centered clean energy programs
Develop concrete ways to track progress. For example, Plymouth Township (Montgomery County) has 6,800 households. 227 of them would need to go through auditing and efficiency upgrades each year in order for all households to be energy-efficient by 2050. In a similar vein, 46 per year would need to switch to electric heat from oil or propane, and 124 per year would need to switch from natural gas.
Paula mentioned two specific actions to consider. One (which has already happened as of this writing) was the protest at Vanguard, mentioned earlier. The other is the Climate Action Lobby Day organized by PennEnvironment. This will occur on June 2. PennEnvironment will arrange 20-minute calls with our elected representatives in which we can participate. They will offer a training program in advance.
Paula concluded with a quote from Joanna Macy. “Each of us,” Macy wrote, “has an important and irreplaceable role in healing our world.”