By Maurice Carter, Sustainable Newton President
Across Newton County cities, one mayoral and 14 city council terms expire at year end. But only two seats -- Covington's East Ward Post 1 and West Ward Post 2 -- have contested races in November. The other openings will be filled in January by candidates who qualified unopposed.
Prior to advanced, in-person voting beginning October 12, Sustainable Newton invited the two Covington East Ward and two West Ward candidates to chat with us about climate change, sustainability, and their positions on issues such as rooftop and utility-scale solar and the adoption of electric vehicles. We offered to send questions a week in advance and record each interview at the candidate's convenience without a live audience. You can read our questions here.
East Ward Post 1 incumbent council member Susie Keck and West Ward Post 2 candidate Scotty Scoggins accepted our invitation. You will find recordings of those conversations below.
Candidates Carla Ferry (East Ward Post 1) and Charika Davis (West Ward Post 2) each declined to participate. I'll have more to say on that below, but let me first elaborate why our questions are so critical now.
As a Covington resident, I care about many issues the council must handle: development decisions, land use, transportation, infrastructure, taxes, and much more. But as President of Sustainable Newton, I represent a grassroots non-profit dedicated to local climate action. Our candidate questions are shaped by our conviction that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is the most pressing threat to humanity in the 21st Century.
Extreme weather -- in the form of wildfires, major hurricanes, flooding, and life-threatening heat waves -- is wreaking havoc around the country and around the world. The Washington Post reports this summer alone, from June through August, one-in-three Americans lived in a county hit by a weather disaster. An astounding 64% live in places suffering through a multi-day heat wave.
In August, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report authored by 234 scientists, drawn from 14,000 studies worldwide, declaring “Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming." U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called the findings a "code red for humanity."
Along with lives lost to extreme weather and entire communities displaced by drought, famine, and floods, climate change poses massive risks to the US and world economies. In 2020, the US was hit by 22 extreme weather events each costing more than $1 billion in damages and $95B total. A recent report from the World Economic Forum found "The largest impact of climate change is that it could wipe up to 18% of GDP off the worldwide economy by 2050 if global temperatures rise by 3.2°C." Even a best-case (and increasingly unlikely) scenario of a 1.5°C increase if we meet all commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement would result in 4% drop in GDP.
But What Does that Have to Do with City Council?
People often view climate policy as a federal issue, focused on presidential or congressional action. But cities are vital.
In August, Sustainable Newton joined members of SmartCitiesWorld signing an open letter to world leaders gathering next month for the COP26 Climate Change Conference 2021 in Glasgow . As the letter noted: "While covering 3 per cent of earth's surface, cities consume 78 per cent of the world's energy and produce more than 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions." The leaders of Smart Cities World put it this way: "Nations Pledge, Cities Deliver."
Covington is a small city of ~14,600 people living in just under 16 square miles. But our carbon footprint and environmental impact are much larger, considering that:
Who Deserves Your Vote?
As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Sustainable Newton cannot support particular candidates for elected office. Our interest is solely to encourage Q&A and discussions that let candidates and voters know the issues we believe are important and why. And to give voters better information for evaluating candidate positions.
In that capacity, we connected with two candidates and have shared their comments to help you choose (if you are a registered voter in Covington). We are disappointed two candidates chose not to engage with us and have decided not to share their positions with you on these questions.
Some readers may wonder if our questions are a tough ask of someone seeking to serve on a small town city council. But, the City of Covington is a sizeable business with annual revenue of $105M and expenses of $91M in Fiscal Year 2020 across government and business operations (gas, electric, water and sewerage, and the airport). Policy decisions made by the city council have major ramifications for those business operations and a direct impact on the climate. We sent questions ahead of the interviews to allow ample time for research and clarification. The two council representatives elected this November will make important decisions from day 1 in January. The time to grasp the issues is now.
You decide for yourselves if the answers from Susie Keck and Scotty Scoggins are adequate. You can also explore this further by contacting them:
But, for all the reasons stated earlier, we urge you to pose these same questions to either of the other two candidates before considering them with your vote. You can reach them as follows:
We believe "There's no time like the present to give our children a better future." But, without increased focus on climate action and sustainability, there may not be much time left to give our children any future. Vote like their lives -- and yours -- depend on it.LECTcharikadavis@gmail.com