As a citizen of Salem with a background in science, I spoke to Salem City Council on Nov. 22, 2021, on the relevance of the IPCC’s recent ‘Code Red’ for Humanity warning and COP26 just held in Glasgow, UK. I left Council with the following document with enumerated suggestions for municipal policies and actions. I’m requesting it be published with the addition that I would hope that this newspaper’s readers could submit more ideas to be considered for a Salem City Action Plan on Climate and the Environment. I hope that our city will step out and be a leader for other small cities. We should all be conservatives in the sense that we owe our children a planet that can continue to sustain them, our pets, our livestock, our gardens, and our wildlife.
I speak to you today as a Salem citizen of 26 years and as a retired academic who has taught many college courses on meteorology and climate. I continue to follow the science and to write and speak to community groups about climate. I am worried for the future of our children.
Today it is cold in Salem, but do you remember July 2021? This past July was the hottest of any month ever recorded on Earth; every year since 2013 has been hotter than the one before. Our October was the third warmest ever. This year in the U.S. has seen 22 climate-related disasters each costing over a billion dollars – last year we had eighteen. Remember Hurricane Ida? It took out the power grid in New Orleans for weeks, then dumped 7 inches of rain on New York. Epic wildfires scorched our West, killing hundreds of ancient giant sequoias trees. Heat waves above the Arctic Circle in the Pacific Northwest and Siberia reached over 110ºF, and flash floods devastated parts of Tennessee, killing 28. Staggering amounts of rain fell in northern Italy in October, causing floods and landslides in several regions and breaking European records.
Twenty-nice inches fell in 12 hours. One city got 35 inches in 24 hours. Just last week, more than a dozen tornadoes ravaged Sicily.
The fact is, we are in a human-caused climate emergency. In August, prior to COP26, the
U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a ‘Code Red’ for humanity, stating that impacts and costs of 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) of warming will be far greater than expected. The world is warmer now than it has been in the past 125,000 years, and the rates of warming are unprecedented compared to any time in 2,000 years. Climate scientists base these claims on strong data analysis, bringing together multiple lines of evidence, new observations, new sets of simulations, and research on past climates. Human-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions cause weather extremes.
Technological innovations and market solutions may help, but are insufficient to prevent more warming. We must reduce our GHG emissions and move quickly to renewable sources of energy. Cities are an important part of the solution in fighting climate change. So, how should a small city like Salem respond to this situation?
So, I have several suggestions and invite Salem to be a leader and make public what you are doing because there is economic value for Salem in creating and maintaining a positive environmental reputation.
#1) Create a Community Climate and EnergyAction Plan focused upon reducing GHG emissions with target dates of 2030 and 2050. Set goals and track progress. Periodically, inventory the City’s GHG emissions to measure progress. Reach out to educate the Salem community and urge the School Board to include climate education in our curriculum. Engage local artists in creating educational climate-oriented art that can adorn building walls as murals or as posters that can be placed in the library and businesses.
#2) Plan to replace worn out City vehicles with electric ones. Electric vehicles high efficiencies reduce overall emissions even if electricity is produced by coal-fueled power plants. Appalachian Power has been funding electric school buses (https://roanoke.com/news/local/ appalachian-power-funding-electric-school-buses/article_0aa73576-4722-11ec-97cf-9b0611e68437.html).
#3) Reduce methane emissions from our landfill. For example, implement commercial food waste composting for restaurants and grocery stores and encourage homeowners to compost food waste and plant gardens.
#4) Support and sustain our Farmer’s Market by encouraging locally made products and food made by local businesses using sustainably sourced materials.
#5) Promote energy conservation in buildings, which are the biggest sources of GHG emissions within cities because of the energy used in electricity, heating, and water. Raise awareness about efficiency by offering information to businesses and homeowners, for example, on improving window insulation, installing LED light bulbs, installing programmable thermostats, and solar panels. Address the “urban heat island effect” by providing incentives for buildings with dark roofs to paint them white so they reflect rather than absorb sunlight.
#6) Adopt policies to disincentivize “McMansions,” for example, by requiring that every new house over 5,000 square feet mitigate its presumed electricity consumption with on-site renewable generation, or pay a fee. Require mitigation for high-energy luxuries like hot tubs, swimming pools, and snow-melting systems. Such fees could be reduced or eliminated if the builder install a large enough solar array, geothermal or solar heat pump, or some combination. Seek grants to reduce the cost of installing solar or adopting other energy- saving measures like insulating windows and attics.
#7) Plant more trees in public spaces. Promote projects like community gardens and neighborhood parks – projects that increase resilience. Planting more trees and expanding parks can reduce the urban heat island effect, clean the air, and absorb GHG emissions.
#8) Provide more charging stations for electric vehicles in Salem.
#9) Divest funds from fossil fuels; invest in renewables and encourage citizens to do the same.
#10) Implement policies to reduce plastic waste. Plastic pollution is not only an ocean issue, but a climate issue and a human health issue. Plastic begins as fossil fuel and emits greenhouse gases from cradle to grave. Incineration has the greatest climate impact, projected to be 50 million metric tons by 2050. Burning plastic releases thousands of toxic pollutants. The goal would be for plastic products to be reused as much as possible. That is why Salem should follow Roanoke and tack a 5¢ fee on single-use plastic bags. Encourage people to reuse them or use more durable containers when shopping.
#11) Finally, do everything possible to stop the completion of the unnecessary and potentially disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline. You have heard why this project is dangerous at previous Council meetings. I’ll spare you from repeating that case;’, but only say that the climate impact of the MVP and its compressor stations would be enormous.
I’ll close by asking you to make Salem part of the solution, and not just another part of the problem. Recognize what is happening and for the sake of Salem’s children, do the right thing. In the words of Rachel Carson, “Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience.”