My county council in Montgomery County, Maryland declared a Climate Emergency. In doing so, they pledged to reduce county greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and by 100 percent by 2035. They knew full well that to meet these goals, they’d have to adopt “radical” changes in the way we use energy, from transportation to heating and cooling, to lighting and more. They also acknowledged that the task would require everyone – including government, citizens, businesses, non-profits, and other institutions – to work together.
At a recent town hall meeting in Silver Spring, MD, an overflow crowd gathered to hear from Marc Elrich, our county executive, and several other key players, about the status of the county’s initiative.
Wendy Howard of One Montgomery Green, laid out the stakes when she said, “I’m concerned about the health of the generation coming behind us,” noting that children will suffer disproportionately from dirty air and extreme weather events if we continue burning the fossil fuels responsible for a large part of climate change. Tom Hucker, my own council representative, urged the audience to take action. “If the people lead, the leaders will follow,” he said. “We (meaning elected officials) can’t do it by ourselves. We need everyone of you to pitch in.” County executive Elrich identified establishing community solar programs as one concrete step our community should push for, saying we should aim to put solar panels on school roofs and bus depots as well as on houses and buildings. Adriana Hochberg, the Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, said individual action is important, too. “I walk a mile to get a bus to get to work,” rather than drive, she noted.
Fortunately, my county is not alone in deciding to tackle climate change head on. Hundreds of cities and counties around the world – including New York City, Santa Cruz, and Austin here in the US – are declaring a “climate crisis” or “climate emergency” as a way to mobilize leadership, resources and public will to reign in the biggest existential threat we face today. To get a community engaged, there are plenty of tools at The Climate Mobilization.
For example, “declaration templates” outline language local and state government can adopt to both acknowledge the state of emergency and also commit to addressing it. The declaration notes that already 175 countries have “recognized the threat of climate change and the urgent need to combat it by signing the Paris Agreement, agreeing to keep warming “well below 2 degrees C (about pre-industrial levels)” and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C.”
The declaration also explains that transitions from dirty to clean energy must occur and that social and economic justice must figure into any climate emergency plan.
Among the resolutions the declaration offers are those to commit to a “just transition” to clean energy, as well as to public education about the climate crisis while involving the “full community” in the solutions needed to make a difference.
Different communities may go about declaring the emergency and then implementing an action plan in different ways. In my county, we had the benefit of citizen activist groups pushing the county council to do the right thing along with individual council members who were supportive from the beginning. Once the county declared the emergency, it set up working groups to help plan for the transition to a cleaner carbon-free economy. The groups are now focused on identifying clean sources of energy the county can tap, as well as solutions available in sectors like transportation, public education, and building construction and maintenance. The working groups are also considering climate crisis adaptation strategies, and whether our county can sequester carbon by storing it in soil or through tree planting or regenerative agriculture.
Meanwhile, my city of Takoma Park has declared its own climate emergency because doing so “signals that we are willing to do our part” to help avoid “devastating consequences for inaction.” In addition to conducting a study to identify ways the city and its businesses and residents can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the city’s sustainability manager is convening town hall meetings to share research and brainstorm solutions. At the same time, I and others are hosting neighborhood focus groups to get even more input from citizens and local business owners on what to do.
“A true solution to the climate emergency must account for all sources of greenhouse gases…” notes Montgomery County’s climate emergency website. “This means an all-hands-on-deck transformation of our economy and society. In the process, we can build more resilient, compassionate, and just communities that work for everyone.”