Environmental issues have created big headlines lately — and will come into sharp focus this weekend in advance of Earth Day on April 22.
Wherever you fall politically, we can agree that our planet is worth preserving.
What gets people fired up is how to do it — illustrated by the swift and extreme debate over the Green New Deal. And the rhetoric can stand in the way of progress.
Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal on Feb. 7. The resolution has sparked fierce Twitter battles, dominated cable-news panels and foreshadowed big themes of presidential campaigns underway.
The resolution cites the Special Report on Global Warming from 2018, and bullet points such issues as health care, healthy food, education, housing, wage disparity, racial inequality and gender discrimination.
The Green New Deal has been criticized in part for lacking specifics and finances, and for blanket statements about complex individual issues. Its authors also warn that failing to act will lead to the world's end in 12 years. Democrats call it a conversation-starter while Republicans attempt to punch holes in it like a wet paper bag.
Some Democratic presidential hopefuls who faced criticism for their support emphasized that the resolution is an aspirational outline, not legislation. Former President Barack Obama reportedly advised Democratic Party supporters to "think in the nitty-gritty about how those big, bold ideas will work and how you pay for them."
As an entrepreneur in the energy efficiency sector, I'm all for aspirations. But I also like the nitty-gritty — attainable goals and actionable data. Heated rhetoric causes the other side to shut down inevitably hurts the progression of green legislation and advancements. Here are some things we can do right now.
1. Jobs, Research and Education
More people are finding work in the green sector. In this country, we've grown to 2.25 million jobs in energy efficiency alone, according to a U.S. Energy and Employment Report. Jobs transcend politics.
You can see the surge locally. Chase Counts, a director of utility programs at Community Housing Partners Energy Solutions, recently started a network of clean energy professionals called Greenbound RVA. Counts has seen his membership numbers grow tremendously among environmental advocates and business owners who want to forge collaborations and engage the community.
It's natural to fear that efficiencies will put people out of work, which causes resistance to renewable and clean energy development. But companies can save millions of dollars while dramatically cutting carbon emissions, helping the environment and stabilizing the grid.
Fear and a lack of education also can stall efficiency projects in our backyards. Last week, the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors finally approved what could be the biggest solar farm on the East Coast, the Virginia Mercury reported. Communities should be wise, but not block such projects in knee-jerk reactions.
We should encourage educational and networking programs by such community groups as Greenbound RVA. And we should support training programs to educate our workforce, push for more research and development and embrace advancements in the internet of things, artificial intelligence and block-chain technology.
2. Advocate for Change
Voters can work to stay informed about environmental issues that can be improved through federal, state and local legislation — and push for change.
We watched this recently with Dominion Energy, which will spend $870 million on efficiency programs in the next decade, the Associated Press reported last month. The utility's decision was a reversal, due in large part to political and public pressure not to renege on a deal it had made.
Most of our buildings waste extreme amounts of energy. You might own, manage or work in such a building — and could ask about what steps are being taken to achieve more efficiency. Financial incentives from utilities should be encouraged to help reduce strain on the grid. Such programs go toward contractors and trade allies who create efficiencies through smart metering, lighting, window film, heating and air conditioning, and energy audits.
Another area that can strengthen progress is coordinated legislation to align the complex set of building-code requirements, which vary across jurisdictions.
3. Food and Water
Some of the biggest energy waste comes from rural and urban communities that historically haven't been privy to energy efficiency resources, or simply don't have the financial stability to acquire the products and services needed to make an impact.
Healthy food and clean water — where they come from and who has access to them — is a key part of improving our environment. We should support research and development of agriculture and water systems, technologies and processes.
Programs that help develop local indoor growing facilities could be one strategy. This would reduce carbon emissions from the decrease in transportation of goods while increasing the shelf life of foods and reducing the amount of food waste.
We should continue to develop water monitoring and filtration systems throughout the cycle of the delivery of water. It starts at the water and waste treatment plants and ends with the shower heads and faucets we install.
You also can look for local efforts and nonprofit groups to support as a volunteer or contributor. One advocate that comes to mind is Duron Chavis, who works as manager of community engagement for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
For years, Chavis has worked on urban farming projects and training to improve food deserts in Richmond — an issue that still restricts access for many residents to affordable, healthy food. His work with Lewis Ginter includes its urban gardener program, which encourages public green spaces and sustainability.
In the midst of political debates about the future, we can't lose sight of grounded ideas about what we can do right now — realistic, approachable steps to fuel the economy and support clean tech, energy efficiency, renewables and other efforts to improve our environmental responsibility. A Simple Green Deal. S
Chris Rawlings is the founder and chief efficiency officer of Veteran LED, a veteran-owned lighting and energy design firm that helps companies implement environmentally friendly lighting solutions and energy conscious technologies.
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