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Citizens and Officials Unite to Cool Their Communities
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by Laura Sargent | 2008

Annapolis successfully hosted Maryland’s third annual Cool Cities and Counties Workshop: a campaign to reduce global warming pollution. Learn about the Cool Cities campaign and how to bring road show to your area.

Cool Cities and Cool Counties, a national Sierra Club campaign to reduce global warming pollution, hosted its third annual workshop on May 31. The Annapolis day-long meeting brought together citizens and local government officials to meet  the challenge.

More than 50 citizens participated in panels, discussions, and breakout groups. Activists traveled from across Maryland as well as Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. Colleen Sarna, a National Cool Cities coordinator, noted, “Global warming is really bringing unlikely activists out of the woodwork.” Several government officials also attended (listed below).

The idea behind Cool Cities is to coordinate with government to create energy efficiency, transportation, smart growth, and renewable energy solutions to create healthier cities and counties, while at the same time saving tax dollars. Public officials commit to reducing their community’s carbon footprint and work with residents to make this happen. Maryland has  more than ten Cool Cities and five Cool Counties. The program is spreading internationally: both Sama and Stephanie Cutts, a National Cool Cities analyst, pointed to an effort in Pakistan.

Breakout sessions covered how to start a campaign, inventory greenhouse gas emissions in your area, build coalitions, create a climate action plan, and use the Cool Cities website (http://coolcities.us/).

Sama and Cutts both addressed attendees, as did many others: Rob Savidge, sustainability coordinator for the City of Annapolis; David Hauck, Sierra’s Montgomery County chairman; Alana Wase, Maryland Chapter conservation program coordinator; Ann Elsen, energy consultant; Christina Yagijian, of Faith Partnerships with DC’s Sierra Club chapter; Dave O’Leary, Chapter conservation chair; Steve Welty, energy consultant; and Eric Coffman, Montgomery County energy manager.

Said Hauck, “The Cool Cities and Counties campaign is essential for any local government. Not only does it reduce pollution, but it also reduces tax dollars spent on fuel and energy. With the rise in fuel costs, this can mean significant savings.”

Under the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, cities strive to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emissions reduction target (7 percent under 1990 levels) by 2012. Currently, 850 cities throughout the nation and Puerto Rico have signed on to the agreement.

The Cool Counties Climate Stabilization Declaration moves beyond 2012. Following recommendations in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, the target is an 80 percent reduction of current greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2050. Chris Yoder of Baltimore said, “It is going to take big changes.”

The campaign does have benchmarks, but don’t get discouraged if your group gets hung up on one of them! Sama encouraged people: “Change happens on the local level first and fastest.” The most important thing is to get local governments to make real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the steps to try to make this happen:

• Get a commitment from your officials that yours will become a Cool City.

• Conduct a greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

• Create a climate action plan.

• Implement it.

Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer of Annapolis was one of the first in the nation to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Shortly after being elected, Anne Arundel’s John Leopold was the first county executive in Maryland to sign the Mayors Agreement. Hauck said, “We need to start with the low hanging fruit. Once we get credibility, we can move up to the national government.”

He stressed, “You need to focus on energy efficiency and savings first.” According to the Maryland Public Service Commission, every dollar spent on energy efficiency yields three in savings on utility bills. Successes with local Cool County groups include Montgomery County’s passage of a new law, the first in the nation, requiring that all homes built starting in 2010 meet Energy Star standards (which will reduce their energy use by 15–30 percent).

Steve Welty urged Cool groups to suggest that government buildings publicly display their Energy Star ratings. These are determined by the EPA, which is a partner with the Department of Energy in the Energy Star program. The EPA rates buildings based on the goals and improvements they reach.

Another idea was energy film festivals to help educate the public and garner support for the Cool initiatives. At the end of the day, attendees left inspired—and eager to check out the Web site and register (for free). Registered members can connect with others in their area.

Finally, a Cool Cities Road Show is being offered in Maryland for those seeking help with launching a campaign or boosting efforts to green their community. This involves a visit to your Sierra group at which presenters provide materials tailored to your campaign needs. Sessions can be held evenings or weekends during the day. Your group is responsible for all logistics: picking the place, getting food, and promoting the presentation. The Road Show provides the information, presenters, help with outreach, and some funding.

If you want to learn more about Cool Cities and Counties or recent workshop, visit the Maryland Sierra Club Web site, and click on Cool Cities: http://maryland.sierraclub.org/action/p0048.asp.    

 

Laura Sargent is a student at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, and is a summer intern working in the Chapter Office.

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