Living Columns & Blogs

Centre Climate: How local groups are making a difference, and how to join them

Greta Thunberg, that inspiring Swedish activist, has received a lot of attention for her strong words on climate change. “How dare you!” she famously scolded world leaders at the United Nations, adding: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

But locally, our children have been just as outspoken. I attended the “climate strike” on Sept. 20, where one young activist pointed out that they feel forced “to do the brunt of the work, because our older generations – most of them – have not done it.”

They are right. Time and again, politicians have promised action, all the way back to 1992, when Republican President George H. W. Bush promised “an action plan on climate change.” If we had taken up his challenge over a quarter century ago, when carbon dioxide levels were around 350 ppm, this would all be much easier. Now they are surpassing 415 and rising quickly, and we are locking in ever-more dangerous climate change impacts.

So, I’ve decided to dedicate this month’s column to local groups that are making a difference. They are all looking for help, so join them!

Citizen’s Climate Lobby is one of the most visible organizations in our community. CCL is devoted to passing legislation that promotes solutions to climate change. They are non-partisan and meet monthly, usually at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in State College.

Last month, a member of CCL wrote in the CDT that I haven’t been pushing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, so I’m doing that now! This act, an important first step in responding to climate change, uses the power of the market to drive innovation. Conservative economists, like Nobel-prize winner William Nordhaus, have pushed this for decades as the best way to wean us off of fossil fuels.

The act currently has only one Republican co-sponsor, so this is a great opportunity to push local representatives to support this responsible, market-based solution.

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (PA IPL) was started in State College 10 years ago as a “religious response to climate change.” Part of a national organization with over 10,000 member congregations, PA IPL focuses on education and outreach to the faith community.

Currently, PA IPL is sponsoring screenings of the documentary “From Paris to Pittsburgh” in local congregations. PA IPL volunteers are also restoring habitat in several locations around the state, including Walnut Springs Park in State College. And this spring, they will send off over a dozen bicyclists who will pedal their way from State College (and Philadelphia) to Washington, D.C., where they meet with their local representatives.

Just a few days ago, James Eisenstein wrote an op-ed in the CDT that connected climate change with the loss of biodiversity. And many local environmental groups have been at the forefront of responding to climate change, even while continuing their other good work protecting our forests, streams and oceans. I mention a few of the most active here, but please let me know of any I have missed.

The Sierra Club Moshannon Group is part of the oldest environmental organization in the United States, founded in 1872. Likewise, the National Wildlife Federation, founded in 1936, has long advocated for the wild areas of the United States and the many creatures that inhabit them. Both organizations remind us that climate change affects many animal and plant species with no voice in the halls of power.

Other local groups include Trout Unlimited, the Nittany Valley Environmental Coalition, and ClearWater Conservancy. Each one of these is trying to limit the damage of climate change to the natural environment, while also promoting forest and land management that actually pulls damaging greenhouse gases out of the air.

Joining one (or more) of these groups is a great way to make a difference. But probably the most radical thing you can do to respond to the challenge of our children is to speak up at your place of worship, your place of employment and your local community. Everyone needs to have a plan to reduce their carbon footprint.

We can be inspired by the good work already being done in local and regional governments. Both the State College Borough and Ferguson Township have adopted a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Moreover, dedicated staff and volunteer boards are putting action behind these words.

Penn State, the largest employer in the Centre Region, has already reduced its carbon footprint significantly, and is on track to achieve a 35% reduction by next year. Many of their strategies can be adopted by other local businesses. Several local churches have also developed action plans.

So, be inspired by our young people and join them in taking real action. What we do now, this year, and in the next 10 years will largely determine the fate of earth’s climatic system for many generations.

Jonathan Brockopp has been a resident of Centre County for 15 years and teaches the Ethics of Climate Change at Penn State. He welcomes your comments and ideas at brockopp@psu.edu.
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