2022: Are we at the climate crossroad?

by Paula Kline, Ready For 100 and West Chester Green Team

Many of us in the West Chester area have come a long way in the last year in our understanding of climate change. The extreme weather in June of 2021 and the devastating flooding from Hurricane Ida this past September gave us all a warning that climate disruption is too close for comfort. This fall was a pivotal moment for clarifying what we are all facing and what we, in West Chester, can do.

To start with, the UN published a scientific assessment of climate in an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC report verified that climate change is now clearly occurring, that this change is accurately predicted by the climate models, that significant further climate change is already baked in, and that to stay within the guard rail of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, we need to drastically reduce our emissions and dramatically increase access to renewable energy. The authors didn’t mince words: they described the report as a “code red for humanity.” Without immediate measures, the IPCC makes clear, the world is likely to hit 1.5C by the early 2030s. It is a sobering and challenging picture.

The IPCC report served as a backdrop to the UN meeting on climate in early November in Glasgow, known as COP26 (for the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties).  Some progress was made at this conference. Learn more here and here.

On the home front this fall, we continued to encourage local government leadership and inspire action at the household and business level. West Whiteland, West Bradford and East Fallowfield joined a growing number of Pennsylvania communities—over 35—in passing resolutions to align with global climate targets. There are now more than 170 communities in the U.S. to commit to ambitious goals to address the threats to our health and property in the face of extreme weather and air pollution.

Several states, including Hawaii, New York, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, and California, and 11 counties have made similar commitments. Local government leadership has been critical to the growing movement to transition away from polluting fossil fuels: in 2016, less than 2% of people in the US lived in a place committed to 100%. Today, that number is 28%—1 in 4 people in the US now live in a place committed to 100% clean energy, including right here in the West Chester area.

Highlights from the end of 2021

• We celebrated National Energy Efficiency Day with a workshop on Efficiency First! and with declarations from Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, the Chester County Commissioners, West Chester Mayor Jordan Norley, and the state legislature. (West Chester proclamation to the left; download County proclamation here.)

• We organized the third Chester County Clean Energy Virtual Tour which kicked off on October 2nd. It showcased the solar and other clean technologies adopted locally through 3-minute video “tours,” which are both entertaining and informative, of farms, homes, businesses, government buildings and houses of worship. Dave Weber accompanied his tour with guitar music and evocative songs from “You are my Sunshine” to “Let the Sun Shine.” He and his family avoided over 73,000 pounds of CO2 emissions and often get electric bills that say, “No payment due.”

The tour also gave Chester County building owners and renters a glimpse at how a variety of solar systems look in and around structures with different architectural styles, from an 1840’s barn to LEED-certified buildings. In addition to homes, other tours focused on public buildings. West Bradford’s Township Building illustrates the benefit of installing a Geothermal Heating and Cooling System in new and renovated government facilities. The Stroud Research Center offered an inspiring example of the energy efficiency that offices and schools could undertake, in addition to its exceptional water management system. Central Baptist Church in Wayne shared their multi-year plan to become a Net-Zero congregation. The Hillside Elementary tour (Tredyffrin/Easttown School District), narrated by students, highlighted the benefits of green roofs. If you missed the tour, check out the videos here.

Looking ahead to a critical year 2022

At our annual retreat we decided to continue to build public awareness and engagement to support (1) the policy level action at the municipal, county and state level; (2) household level action and (3) energy transitions for high emitters in our community.

Understanding that the window of opportunity for avoiding the worst aspects of climate disruptions, we encourage you to discover what you can do. Here are a few options:

Policy level action at the municipal, county, and state level

• Contact your municipal Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) or Sustainability Advisory Council (SAC) and ask them what more they can do to lead by example. Ask if the municipality has an energy transition plan, a climate action plan and a natural disaster/resilience plan. Urge them to commit to shifting to renewable electricity and electric vehicles (EV’s) for their fleet and police vehicles. Ask them to work with PECO to make solar and EV-ready buildings connections easier for everyone.

• Speak up: be sure you are on the mailing list for the advocacy group of your choice, so you can make sure your voice is heard on state-level decisions. There are many bills hostile to our future we need to stay abreast off. Options include PennEnvironment, the PA Chapter of the Sierra Club and Conservation Voters of PA.

• Volunteer to spread the word at tabling events in the West Chester Area. We have a “virtual table.”

Think about your household and daily life

•Learn what you can do where you live by consulting the resources gathered by West Chester’s Clean Energy Future, an outgrowth of the shared work done by members of the West Chester Area Council of Governments’ Clean Energy Plan.

• Get a PECO energy assessment (which is free for low income households). Only a fraction of area households have taken this simple and cost effective first step. Do it this week!

• Find out if solar is right for your house through Solarize Southeast PA.

• Take the West Chester Area Electric Vehicle survey. Need a new car this year? Make it electric!

• If you have a house you would like to include in the 2022 Clean Energy Tour, or would like to help organize the tour, contact Nora Ziegler.

• Let’s get high emitters on board, such as school districts and water authorities. If you want to help them with their transition to clean energy, we are looking for volunteers! Contact Paula Kline if you are interested in supporting a clean energy transition for the West Chester Area School District.

• Supermarkets are high emitters and contribute to the pollution from the refrigerants they use in their cold aisles. We are organizing to address this issue locally. Want to help? Contact Marian Pflaumer.

• Volunteer to spread the word at tabling events in the West Chester Area. We have a “virtual table” and hope to be back at township community days and local events next summer. Contact Kathy McDevitt to get involved with the Outreach Committee.

Whether you appreciate the beauty of the natural world, love your children or grandchildren or cherish the entire commonwealth of life that is now at risk, you can play a part. Please get involved at whatever level you can!