Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: We Must Be Resilient in Fight Against Climate Change

By Dan Sze

Climate Week saw chanting protesters blocking exasperated commuters from reaching their cherished downtown parking. A record number of children, globally, were speaking up and marching with signs. A young Swedish girl at the United Nations despaired about the collective lack of progress: “… and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

But that week is over, gone, forgotten; see you next year. Climate change will continue whether you believe in it or not. There is abundant need to be resilient to these effects.

Two weeks ago at the Metropolitan Washington DC Council of Governments, the 29 jurisdictions from Maryland, the District and Virginia that form and participate in this organization acknowledged the need to start planning for 2030 goals. Although the region is tracking along the line to achieve 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, we recognize that interim objectives and strategies do have merit and will inform our efforts on overall progress. We acknowledge the low-lying fruit is gone and it will become more difficult and costly to achieve the next set of objectives. Thus, a 2030 plan is a useful mechanism to measure our progress.

Falls Church City proclaimed October to be Energy Efficiency Month. But pronouncements and meetings don’t get us to a recognizable end-state. What are we doing here in this City to be resilient to climate change?

For starters, the City has invested in buildings with Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Development (LEED) certification. The City Hall renovation was built to this standard and the upcoming Library will as well (It does need to be said that today’s Silver certification is equal to last decade’s Gold). Further, the new high school will be constructed to LEED gold and Net-Zero Ready. This facility sets a standard for schools and the adjacent economic development will be built to similar standards. Truly an exemplary display of educational and civic leadership towards resilience.

Chapter Five of the City’s Comprehensive Plan is scheduled for adoption later this year. This update has been shepherded by engaged citizens of the Environmental Sustainability Council and the Urban Forestry Commission. There is the immediate short-term need to address stormwater and solid waste operational and capital investment issues. This update will address resilience by identifying what to plan and budget for to accommodate shock and stress. The urban tree canopy, existing and new growth, will play a major role in our strategy.

A major change in collection and disposal of solid waste has occurred. Traditional off-shore takers are no longer willing to receive contaminated recyclables. Many classes of materials are no longer acceptable for processing off-shore or domestically. Glass poses a conundrum; while the market for ground glass is huge, to be able to get our waste stream up to that standard is difficult. Thus the choice is: do we toss glass as waste or do we invest in the Fairfax glass disposal plant?

There has been a lot of sentiment that we need to address single-use plastics. In our region, eating establishments no longer provide patrons with a plastic straw as a matter of automatic response. This is all to the good. But there is still a large amount of single-use plastics that need to be considered. Sentiment is building to enable local municipalities with the ability to regulate this existential issue by defining incentives or disincentives. Keeping micro-plastics out of the seafood supply chain is being resilient.

We need to enlarge our personal and fleet adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Wide-scale EVs will allow the introduction of time-slice pricing for electricity, making it cheaper at night to recharge your personal or school EV. Earlier this year, citizen activists from our City approached Dominion Energy Virginia about the possibility of subsidizing the acquisition of electric buses for Falls Church. Recently, Dominion has announced that they plan to assist installing 50 electric school buses by 2020 with plans to add 200 more per year for 1,050 fully-electric school buses by 2025. As we know, school buses need to protect our most valuable citizens — our children — and the air in an electric school bus is six times cleaner than air in a diesel school bus. Healthy is resilient.

Rounding out the top tier of energy and climate-related activities, we need to pass Solar Freedom, a set of eight connected regulatory actions to enable a more widespread adoption of distributed energy. It is worth supporting because not only does it enhance grid resilience, but also activates the ability of municipalities like ours, residences and small businesses to take part in renewable energy production using available rooftops and parking lots. Cost affordable distributed solar energy will result in saving taxpayer money, create jobs, lower our carbon footprint and make our communities more resilient in the face of climate change and threats to the grid. This fall, we will take this argument to the Virginia General Assembly.


Dan Sze chairs the MWCOG Climate, Energy and Environmental Policy Committee.