Everyone experienced the effects of climate change in some way this summer, Peter Boger said Monday afternoon.
“Whether that was smoke from the fires, or the flooding or with extreme heat,” said Boger, assistant director for outreach and engagement with Penn State Sustainability. “And we know these are going to be issues that continue to affect us here in Pennsylvania and worldwide, and yet at the same time, and this is an exciting moment of opportunity.
“There’s more money coming from the federal government around climate than ever before, and we’re seeing a lot more action at the federal, state and local levels.”
More than 150 people tuned in Monday afternoon for the first webinar of Commonwealth Sustainability Week, focused on efforts from state-level leadership to curb climate change. In its third year, and hosted by the state’s GreenGov Council and Penn State Sustainability, the weeklong event features daily, free webinars focused on climate change and sustainability efforts statewide.
“Hopefully, you see the theme — that we’re trying to raise awareness on climate and, really, our sustainability week is geared around climate actions and planning,” said Mark Hand, director of the GreenGov Council.
The webinar, “2023 Commonwealth Sustainability Week Kickoff — Sustainability Leadership,” included Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, and Reggie McNeil, secretary of the Department of General Services. Richard Negrin, who heads the Department of Environmental Protection, was also scheduled to speak, but didn’t make the webinar. Hand said he was “tied up in another meeting.”
All serve as co-chairs for the council.
‘Cooling down the streets is critical’
The hour-long event was structured like a panel. Officials explained how their departments work to address climate change and sustainability issues before answering questions. The first question asked the panelists to share near-term climate actions that can be accomplished across the state, as well as their biggest concerns.
“Every parking lot, every rooftop I see, I feel like should have solar on it,” Dunn said. “ … So getting solar everywhere it can be, and overcoming the barriers to that policy-wise, legislatively and it costs-wise, but the investment certainly [would] be worth it in the long run.”
She also mentioned efforts to add more trees, especially in cities, where “tree cover is essential.”
“If you can get shade on streets and houses, it makes a tremendous difference in urban heat and that can save lives,” she said. “Urban heat is a killer in the summertime. So, getting our urban and suburban areas forest-covered is critical to reduce energy bills, but also to save lives and create cover
“After summer like we had, and it’s only going one direction from here right now — cooling down the streets is critical.”
Audience members were also able to submit their own questions. One asked what other state departments are working towards sustainability goals.
Closing trail gaps around the state is a major focus for other departments, including PennDOT, Dunn said. Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River Trail was built through grants, as well as funding from PennDOT and private funding, she said.
Bike commuters can use the trail “as opposed to sitting on the Schuylkill Expressway in traffic and belching exhaust.”
“In the Allentown area as well,” she continued. “There’s a link trail that’s aiming to really provide active transportation. Again, DCNR with our grants on trails has been a key partner there, as have the other agencies.”
The Link Trail connects multi-use trails across the Valley for year-round outdoor recreation and transportation.
“Getting vehicles off the road [and] getting people on trails to connect, even local errands,” she said. I was just in Hellertown a couple of years ago, when we completed a trail there, and people were using their bikes to go to the store.”
Another question dealt with severe weather events, asking if the secretaries see an opportunity to rebuild any damage using more sustainable techniques.
“If we rebuild or renovate anything, we are going to use the most energy-efficient equipment, the most green materials that are out there.”
Reggie McNeil, secretary of the state Department of General Services
“If we rebuild or renovate anything, we are going to use the most energy-efficient equipment, the most green materials that are out there,” McNeil said.
Only a handful of the more than a dozen questions submitted by the audience were answered, but Hand encouraged participants to register for future webinars throughout the week.
The schedule of webinars this week includes:
- Preparing for a Changing Climate: Building a Resilient Pennsylvania
- Join the Movement – PA Climate Network Participation & Training Opportunities
- Building the Workforce of Tomorrow
- Fostering Resilient Communities – Local Climate Action and Planning
A Lehigh Valley official is scheduled to speak as a panelist during Friday’s webinar, “Fostering Resilient Communities.”
Becky A. Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, is scheduled to discuss “how climate planning leads to more resilient communities.”
Other speakers include Michael Walsh, deputy secretary of the state’s Department of Conservation & Natural Resources; Lindsay A. Byron, an environmental group manager in the energy programs office of the state Department of Environmental Protection; and Cathy Tulley, environmental programs manager of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.
“The session provides an opportunity to hear what state and local government planners are working on to address climate change and how we can get involved with local planning and developing local climate priorities.”
“We’ll have a great set of presenters representing a combination of state and local governments to discuss local climate action and planning,” Hand said. “The session provides an opportunity to hear what state and local government planners are working on to address climate change and how we can get involved with local planning and developing local climate priorities.”
Earlier this year, the LVPC announced the receipt of a $1 million infusion of federal funds earmarked to create two separate climate action plans over the next four years.
Officials must create a Priority Climate Action Plan, focused on industrial decarbonization, as well as a Comprehensive Climate Action Plan. The former is due March 1, while the latter is expected to be adopted in August 2025, officials said during a recent meeting of the commission’s Environmental Committee.
Register for any of this week’s webinars here. They will also be recorded and posted on the GreenGov Council’s website.
View the full article at lehighvalleynews.com