Foreign Policy & National Security

October 21, 2022: Taking Small Steps for the Climate

Posted on October 21, 2022 at 12:00 AM

By Jean Stewart, Chair, Earth & Environment Task Force

The first and most important step is to be a climate voter. If you haven’t voted yet, vote for the candidates who will uphold the laws and regulations already on the books to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and who will press for more action to reduce our country’s carbon footprint. This includes setting specific goals, such as getting 50% of energy from renewable sources by 2035. Sad to say, many Republican candidates in local, state, and congressional races are happy to espouse the kinds of destructive environmental roll-backs the former president pushed so hard for. (See Virginia Governor Youngkin.) Vote like your life depends on it—it does. 

With huge disasters in our faces, like this summer’s heat waves, wildfires, and floods, and now with the horrors of Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the climate crisis. But even baby steps count: a baby gets somewhere by taking those wobbly steps, and doing it again and again, one after another. Local action is where ordinary citizens can have an impact, if enough of us in enough places keep taking those little steps. 

An example of local action is in the District of Columbia, where 75% of greenhouse gas emissions come not from our dreadful traffic, but from buildings. Since the enactment of the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018, DC has taken a leadership role in establishing mandatory building energy performance standards. Many of us were active in getting the City Council and the Mayor to pass this measure through several local organizations (DC Sierra Club, Interfaith Power and Light, Moms’ Clean Air Force, Washington Interfaith Network, Audubon Society, and others).   

We local types continue to get down in the nerdy weeds pushing for additional carbon-cutting requirements for buildings of all sizes and types in our city. In response to our request, one City Council member introduced a bill to fill gaps in net-zero energy requirements for new and renovated buildings. On October 6, several of us volunteered to testify at a Council hearing supporting the Greener Government Buildings Amendments Act. This bill would require that construction of new and substantially renovated buildings, owned or financed by the District, adhere to current net-zero energy standards. These criteria include, first and foremost, a high level of energy efficiency and use of on-site generation of renewable energy. When on-site generation is not feasible, off-site energy sources must be renewable and must directly serve the building. Finally, use of on-site fossil-fuel combustion for heating is prohibited. 

So, joining with the many local activists and groups working to slow climate change in localities across the United States can move us

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