Time for Action on the Draft Environmental Action Plan!

deptheader_eco-cityLast night, the Environmental Policy Commission, City Staff, and Virginia Tech hosted an open house to discuss the EPC’s Draft Environmental Action Plan at the City’s latest green building – the Charles Houston Recreational Center (which looks amazing). Lots of great comments were generated and we sensed a readiness among the participants to help get their hands “clean” in helping Alexandria become a sustainable city.  This really is the last piece of Eco-City policy planning and while it has been two years of incredibly hard work on the part of EPC members, City Staff, our partners at Virginia Tech, City Council, and lots of input and dedication from our citizens, we think it has all been worth it.  Having a plan and a direction are necessary to enacting meaningful change.  But we need your input to ensure that we’ve got it right and we’re going to need you to do your part in implementing this plan.  

Please review and submit YOUR comments and ideas on the Draft Environmental Action Plan by May 15, 2009 (this Friday). After another round of review by the EPC, we will be presenting the proposed final Environmental Action Plan to City Council in early June.

You can find the plan by clicking here.

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One Response to Time for Action on the Draft Environmental Action Plan!

  1. Members of the EPC, City Staff and the VA Tech EcoCity team,

    Kudos for the difficult work you have put in to turn the Eco Charter into action. The new Phase II Action Plan is thorough and comprehensive and you have really listened to our community.

    As a building professional, my focus is naturally upon the Greenbuilding section. My larger focus, however, is upon the issue of carbon emissions. If we don’t get it right on this one, our children and grandchildren won’t much care about or remember the other good things we did.

    The accepted approach to carbon emissions in this country today is one of incremental change—the idea that if we can encourage people to take small steps now, they will take larger steps later. Every environmental program out there is written around the received wisdom of this approach. In my own practice, my own home, and at my church, we have followed this approach.

    The only trouble is, if we take the scientists’ modeling seriously, this approach will not get us to where we need to be in terms of carbon emissions within the time we have to get there. Every major climatological study not funded by industry has agreed that greenhouse gases must be reduced by 80% below the 1992 levels if we are to avoid the tipping points that can lead to cataclysmic changes to the environment. The reason is simple: with business as usual, we will see average planetary temperature rise by 6 degrees by the end of the century. All the models show that that will produce an unrecognizable planet. They also show that if we can limit the rise to a maximum of 2 degrees, we can avoid the worst of the changes. To limit the rise to 2 degrees we have to cut emissions by 80%.

    The only issue of disagreement among the climate scientists is exactly when the tipping points will occur—that is, how long do we have to get our act together and achieve an 80% reduction. NASA’s James Hansen, who blew the whistle on climate change 30 years ago, says we have until 2020; others give other dates between 2020 and 2050.

    So where do our incremental EcoCity Charter targets actually get us? The goal of making all new buildings carbon neutral by 2030 will achieve a carbon emissions reduction of under 40%, even when we factor in an energy mix that has half the coal and ten times the renewables that we have in the present energy mix. This is less than halfway to our goal. The reason it falls so far short is that the target doesn’t significantly address our existing building stock. That is where the real work is, and where our city needs to provide leadership and incentives for building owners.

    My point is not to dwell on the specific targets or tactics, but to stress that we have to look at all our targets and all of our actions in terms of the ultimate target of 80% emissions and the relatively short time frame we have to work within. Every building we build or renovate using an incremental approach is effectively locked in as a part of— not a solution to— the problem. Why? Because chances are that no one is going to do a major renovation on that building again in the next 30 years, after which time the game will be over.

    I encourage you to tie the means directly to the ends. LEED Platinum sounds great, but it is not, in its present form, an energy standard that will get us to the emission levels we need to be at. Let’s not simply check inside the approved boxes that are given to us—LEED Silver, LEED Platinum, whatever. Let’s question these boxes. Let’s instead raise our horizons and look at the standards the Europeans are now adopting—things like the Factor 10 standard and the Passive House standard, which were designed specifically to meet the 80% emissions reduction goals; things like the Sustainable Cities program in Britain.

    An incremental approach is usually totally appropriate to processes of change. It will certainly work well with cleaning up the Bay, or improving our open space. But it will not work with climate change. The time is too short, and the changes are irreversible. To ignore this fact is to run the risk of being very busy and making ourselves feel like we are doing the right thing, but missing the target. The math is really pretty simple. And our grandchildren and the rest of life on this planet deserve that we get it right. We can’t afford not to.

    David Peabody

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