Low humidity and pleasant temperatures in late August? Opening the windows at night? Needing a sweater in the evening? As we revel in the unexpected glorious weather this week, one might question the concern about climate change, but this is exactly the time to continue planning and implementing local and regional efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, and the many other issues identified by scientists to be at risk.
On Monday and Tuesday, elected officials, regional representatives, and academics from the National Capital Region, Germany, and Canada gathered at George Mason University for the sixth and final meeting of the current phase of the Transatlantic Urban Climate Dialogue (TUCD). Previous dialogues have been held in Berlin and Stuttgart, Germany, and Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Although the international guests had been advised to pack lightly for the region’s late summer heat, no one argued about the weather – this week, at least!
Renowned global energy expert Peter Garforth outlined the goals of the dialogue, which focused on community energy plans in several mid-size German cities and in Guelph, an agricultural city of 120,000 between Toronto and Detroit. Mr. Garforth suggested that more attention needs to be paid to what he called “thermal integration,” or use of waste heat, which essentially is what district energy plans implement, very successfully, in a growing number of locations. District energy plans got their start in European cities in the 1970s, as populations grew and reliance on fragile foreign oil supplies also grew. Alluding to those who decry climate change and reliable scientific evidence, Mr. Garforth said “Let’s have intelligent conversations, not fights.” Localities should be able to build on the successes of other localities, and achieve greater scale in implementations, quickly.
Coincidentally, the same morning the conference opened, The Washington Post’s lead editorial outlined the national debate about climate change. Despite political debate that fails to result in action at the congressional level, the editorial noted that there are reasons not to give up. The ongoing drought in California, flash flooding in Arizona, and sea level rise on the mid-Atlantic coastline are a few risks just in this country. “Every region of the world faces serious risks,” the editorial pointed out. “It makes sense for the United States to take steps even though other nations have yet to do enough on climate change.”
This week’s Transatlantic Dialogue demonstrates that many of our allies have taken steps necessary to implement district energy plans, LEED building certifications (one of the speakers pointed out that one green building is nice, but it takes many green buildings truly to make a difference). The Northern Virginia Regional Commission, a co-host of this week’s meeting, is working with its local government members to make Northern Virginia a shining example of energy cooperation. We can lead, not follow and, as the Post editorial concluded, do it “sooner rather than later, and be smart rather than clumsy.”
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]