By Sara Vinson, Sustainable Newton Board Member
I attended last week’s Georgia Climate Conference as a Sustainable Newton board member and concerned citizen who has read what scientists from 13 federal government agencies predict for our region in the Fourth National Climate Assessment. As a parent and someone who cares about my fellow community members, I am deeply concerned about what will happen if we fail to take action.
I came away from the two-day conference reassured that despite knowing Georgia is poised to experience every extreme climate event there is, including intense heat, drought, inland flooding, sea level rise, and wildfire, our state has the potential to be a leader in the fight to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Below, I’ve highlighted a handful of projects that demonstrate why.
As much as I’ve tried to follow news about how our state is meeting the challenges of climate change, I wasn’t aware of The Ray, an 18-mile stretch of I-85 near LaGrange that features solar-paved highway, a state-of-the-art tire tread and pressure monitoring station, solar-powered vehicle charging stations, and miles of native pollinator meadows. This living laboratory I hope to visit soon was made possible through a partnership between the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The Business Case for Climate Action
Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Clark facilitated a panel called “The Business Case for Climate Action.” Participants included an executive from Cox Enterprises who showcased that company’s investments in high-tech, sustainable agriculture, power grid transition services, and molecular-level recycling. South Georgia peanut farmer Donald Chase highlighted the technology that is allowing farmers to reduce energy and water inputs as they work on the frontlines of a new and variable climate. And, the president of the Georgia Forestry Association shared that Georgia is already the largest timber-producing state in the United States and that continuing to grow the forestry industry is important because trees are the most-advanced and cost-effective technology we have for absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and wood products provide long-term storage of carbon.
Municipal Commitment to Renewable Energy
At the municipal level, Kelly Girtz, mayor of the unified government of Athens-Clarke County, reported that 78 percent of ACC voters just approved a special-purpose, local-option, sales tax (SPLOST) which, among other things, will direct over $15.8M to renewable energy projects over 11 years. Investments in technologies such as solar and geothermal energy production, energy storage systems, electric vehicles and recharging facilities, building energy management systems, and upgrades to lighting and HVAC systems are projected to save the unified government over $1.2M per year. These measures will help ensure that Athens-Clarke County meets its goal of 100% clean, renewable energy by 2035.
Project Drawdown is a world-renowned research organization that has identified and ranked 100 viable solutions to fight climate change by reducing CO2 emissions. Georgia Drawdown is a partnership between the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, The Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, and The University of Georgia working to identify the most promising carbon-reduction solutions specifically for Georgia. Researchers from the aforementioned institutions have created working groups in the areas of electricity generation, transportation, the built environment, food systems, forestry, and a beyond carbon category that is looking at health, equity, and jobs. At the Georgia Climate Conference, Georgia Drawdown representatives announced they have already narrowed Project Drawdown’s list of 100 solutions to 23 possible action areas that seem most promising for Georgia. By next summer, the group will present a final list of research-backed solutions that will help guide policy makers, business leaders and regular citizens as we work to dramatically reduce our state’s carbon footprint over the next decade.
Continuing the Conversation
The Georgia Climate Conference, organized by The Georgia Climate Project, successfully started a statewide conversation about climate change in Georgia. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation here in Newton County. The Georgia Climate Conference demonstrated that the solutions are within our grasp.
Continue the climate conversation in Newton County by joining us for
"24 Hours of Reality: Truth in Action" on Thursday, November 21, at 6 pm
in the community room of the Newton County Public Library's Covington Branch.