Green Communities event in Waco focuses on climate risks and solutions | Local government and politics
A warming planet is poised to bring sweltering summers to Waco over the next decade or two while devastating coral reefs, melting the planet’s ice and causing flooding. oceans in coastal cities, attendees of Waco’s first-ever Green Communities Symposium said Wednesday.
The good news, according to City of Waco and private sector stakeholders, is that Waco has immediate opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint without breaking the bank.
Opportunities include new sources of federal funding that could fund solar projects on city property, improve energy conservation and build green transportation projects, officials said.
Some 200 people came to the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative for the day-long event hosted by Keep Waco Beautiful and sponsored by Lush Cosmetics, the city and Baylor University.
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The 14 sessions included insights from Baylor scientists, City of Waco department heads, food and water and land use experts, an electric vehicle advocate, and local factory managers operated by Amazon, Mars Inc. and Balcones Distilling.
Attendees included Waco City Council members Jim Holmes and Kelly Palmer.
“There’s a level of excitement that we call that climate change is real and that we’re facing an existential crisis, with a particular effect on communities of color,” Palmer said during a panel discussion. afternoon she hosted with leaders of non-profit organizations.
She said that when she talks to students at local schools, they want to know what the city is doing to fight climate change.
Officials outlined new federal funding opportunities the city could pursue that could make financial and environmental sense.
The Cut Inflation Act passed last month was the most ambitious climate legislation in history, with $391.7 billion in incentives to cut carbon emissions. This includes energy efficiency funding and a solar grant of up to 40% that is now available to local governments and nonprofits.
Centrica Business Solutions is conducting a preliminary study for a City of Waco energy efficiency initiative that would target heating and cooling in city facilities as well as LED lighting conversion, water conservation and solar and battery installations.
Brian Burcham, a Centrica representative, said the company is considering community centers, which are used as emergency heating and cooling stations during extreme weather conditions. The city could install rooftop solar panels that could recharge the batteries during times when regular electric service is down.
That would be in addition to diesel generators, said Eric Coffman, the city’s sustainability programs manager. He said community centers would be designated as “resilience hubs” for the city.
Meanwhile, the city is also studying the feasibility of installing solar panels at the Waco Regional Landfill when it closes in a few years and using its methane gas for electricity.
Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization Director Mukesh Kumar told attendees that additional funds are being made available to communities for carbon-reduction transportation projects under the Federal Investment and Investment Act. employment in infrastructure adopted last year.
Kumar said DFO expects to receive nearly $550,000 a year over the next five years for projects such as pedestrian improvements, streetlight changes and public transit.
He said $500,000 wouldn’t normally fund a single mile of sidewalk, so the money must be spent wisely and with a view to helping areas of “persistent poverty.”
He said he was happy to see the conference promoting electric vehicles, but he said less reliance on cars is the real goal, to be achieved through more walkable communities and public transportation.
“Every car drop that happens at school has a carbon footprint,” Kumar said. “Walking is the best way to get there. … We have emphasized single-passenger vehicles, but public transport inevitably and in all cases reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
“I know individual decision-making and technology is an attractive way to see how we can get out of this mess, but without changing the system itself, … I highly doubt we can make a difference.”
Baylor environmental scientist Sascha Usenko highlighted the dangers of climate change in an hour-long primer in which he detailed accelerating trends in carbon dioxide levels and global temperature over the past of the last 50 years.
“The worst thing about this conversation is a lot of bad news,” he said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported a spike of 421 parts per million in atmospheric carbon dioxide at its Mauna Loa Observatory in May, a level not seen in 4 million years. CO2 concentrations have increased by about 27% over the past 50 years, according to NOAA data.
Climate scientists have warned the Earth will reach a tipping point if its average temperature rises 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which could happen by 2040, Usenko said.
At this point, 70% of coral reefs will disappear, which will spell disaster for fishing, and extreme heat waves will quadruple in frequency, he said. The collapse of an area of Antarctic ice the size of Florida could occur in the next few years, causing sea levels to rise by a foot, flooding coastal cities.
But Usenko said the worst effects could be avoided if countries and communities committed to reducing carbon emissions.
He said Texas is known as an oil state, but it’s also the No. 1 in wind and No. 2 in solar, and renewables make up 34% of the state’s power grid as of today. first quarter of this year.
“Waco is growing and now is the time for sustainability,” he said. “When you think of the climate, it’s the cities and local communities that are responsible for it. This conference is a step forward.
Charles Dowdell, director of sustainability for the city of Waco, told Usenko that his speech was powerful medicine.
“It’s a wake-up call to see how Earth is affected by changes in CO2 levels,” Dowdell said.
Keep Waco Beautiful executive director Carole Fergusson said the second Green Communities event is already planned for next year.
“Today was amazing,” Fergusson said. “People felt inspired, energized and hopeful.”
She said Lake Waco’s water restrictions this year and food shortages at grocery stores show how the environment cannot be taken for granted.
“I hope this can be the catalyst for change in the community and inspire city leaders to take action,” Fergusson said.