Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Can Falls Church Help Address Global Warming?

By Tim Stevens

The changes we are making to our climate stand as a huge worldwide challenge. If we fail to address this challenge, we will significantly jeopardize the happiness and health (maybe even the survival) of future generations, according to nearly all climate scientists.

The solution seems easy – just stop burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Yet the quantity of these fuels we all use is vast, as is the embedded cost of the facilities used to process them – easy excuses for many governments to avoid making hard decisions to transition to clean energy like wind and solar.

This reluctance is especially evident here in Virginia, where the installed amount of solar energy (about 15 MW) lags significantly behind neighboring North Carolina (with over 600 MW). This modern day case of “the slows” is vexing for all who are aware of the gravity of our situation. Yes, it is a global problem as the name says. But there are things we can do locally to demonstrate our willingness to be part of the solution.

Some of these actions are already underway in our City. We do a good job of recycling, as we have led the state in recent years on the percentage of solid waste we recycle. Recycling materials uses less energy than producing new items – something to think about as you wheel that green bin out on Wednesdays.

The City’s partnership with Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) on planting trees has resulted in hundreds of new trees along our streets. These trees help in a small way to absorb carbon dioxide. The next time you see the volunteer crews out planting new trees, think of it not only in terms of the pleasant shade that will result, but also as an action we are taking to address climate change. It may even inspire you to lend a hand with planting more trees.

Interest in promoting bicycling is catching on. The City recently announced an initiative to come up with a comprehensive plan to make it easier to use a bike within the City. When you see the sharrows on Park and Maple Avenues, think of climate change, and how substituting an occasional bike trip for a car trip is not only enjoyable, but helps reduce your carbon footprint.

A few years ago we took up the challenge of becoming an EPA Green Power Community. A number of our residents and businesses signed up to purchase the Renewable Energy Certificates that channel extra money into the renewable energy industry. Have you noticed the signs as you enter the City that announce our status as a Green Power Community?

New higher density multi-family mixed use projects are under construction within the City. Much of the attention has been on the tax revenues these projects will contribute towards our schools – understandable in a community whose existence is clearly linked to interest in good schools. Often overlooked are the design advantages inherent in mixed-use development – the ability to accomplish all the functions of daily living without having to travel around in a car. Good design is a key tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Just in time to accompany Earth Day this year is a new program available to us – SolarizeNOVA. This program addresses the heart of the climate challenge – the energy we use in our homes. The idea is to form a group to make the purchase of a solar energy system easier and cheaper, for those who want them.

Solarize programs are underway throughout Virginia – very much a grass roots phenomenon. Of course, people who are concerned about global warming are attracted to solar energy, but so are others who don’t feel comfortable relying on a government-sanctioned monopoly for their energy.

SolarizeNOVA uses the resources of two local institutions to make the program work: Northern Virginia Regional Commission and Local Energy Reliance Program (LEAP). Anyone interested in learning whether a solar energy system might work can go to the web site solarizefallschurch.org and sign up for a free site assessment. LEAP will arrange for a solar technician to visit your home and share information you can use to decide if purchasing a system makes sense.

Even if you don’t want a solar energy system, SolarizeNOVA offers something useful – a free home energy check-up. Sign up for it on the solarizefallschurch.org web site, and LEAP will send out one of their energy experts to inspect your home and give you ideas on cutting out wasted energy. Saving money while you address climate change – a great combination.

Learn more about SolarizeNOVA (and solar energy in general) by attending an information forum on Sunday, April 26 at the Community Center (2:30 – 4:00). It will be a good opportunity to ask any questions you have about solar energy.


Tim Stevens is a City of Falls Church resident and place chair of the Environmental Services Council.