Friday, July 13, 2007

Fighting global warming, grassroots style

Environmental group says hopeful signs are showing up locally, statewide

Express Staff Writer

Northbound traffic creeps along state Highway 75 just south of St. Luke?s Wood River Medical Center, south of Ketchum. The Ketchum-based Environmental Resource Center is working to, among other things, get people out of their cars and into carpools or public transportation in an effort to reduce the valley?s overall impact on global warming. Photo by Mountain Express

What can you do?

At home, people can take a number of steps to lower their carbon footprints, which are defined as the impacts human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. Here are just a few of the ways people can lower their personal carbon footprints:

· Eat local food as often as possible.

· Take public transportation or carpool whenever possible.

· Limit air conditioning use in city driving.

· Regularly inspect and clean automobile air filters. Replace when dirty.

· Purchase low rolling resistance fuel-efficient tires and keep them properly inflated.

· Drive the posted speed limit and don't rapidly brake in the city.

· Use reusable containers, bags or cloth bags for lunches and shopping.

· Wash clothes in cold or warm water instead of warm or hot water.

· Insulate water heaters if they are older models.

· Recycle paper, cardboard, number 1 and 2 plastics, steel and tin cans, aluminum cans and foil.

Source: Craig Barry, executive director of the Environmental Resource Center

Only those holed up in a remote cave for the past several years could have escaped it. As an issue of widespread acceptance, global warming and taking action to reduce one's carbon footprint have hit the mainstream. No longer just a rallying point for a small, vocal minority, global warming has become a "water cooler" issue.

And it hasn't escaped the notice of local government leaders, many of whom have or are in the process of taking steps to address the issue.

"It's going to become the new metric for being environmentally minded," said Craig Barry, executive director of the Ketchum-based Environmental Resource Center. "It's a trend. It's going on."

The signing on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement by the cities of Sun Valley, Hailey and Bellevue in the past half year is just one indication that local leaders are serious about doing their part to combat global warming.

The agreement mirrors the Kyoto Protocol, the international accord designed to address climate change. The Kyoto Protocol became law on Feb. 16, 2005, for the 141 countries that ratified it. The U.S. symbolically signed the protocol, but neither ratified nor withdrew from the pact.

At the same time on Feb. 16, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to advance the goals of the Kyoto Protocol through the leadership and action of American cities. As of June 25, 592 mayors representing more than 67 million Americans have accepted the challenge. Elsewhere throughout Idaho, the cities of Boise, Sandpoint and Pocatello have joined local Wood River Valley cities in signing the pact.

"We need to do our part. We need to stand up and be counted, and this is a good starting point," Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson said at the January meeting during which the City Council approved a resolution adding the city's name to the agreement.

The Sun Valley resolution states: "We will strive to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing global warming pollution by taking actions in our own operations and communities."

That includes a 7 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions from 1990 levels by 2012¾the suggested reduction target suggested for the United States had the Kyoto Protocol been ratified.

The mayors' plan includes specific methods and criteria for emissions reduction. Notable actions include the adoption of land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve open space and create compact, walkable urban communities—actions Sun Valley already established through its comprehensive plan.

In a unanimous vote on May 17, the Sun Valley City Council also approved a "Comprehensive Solid Waste Reduction and Recyclable Materials Collection Agreement" and subsequent fee schedule. The agreement is meant to reduce the city's overall waste production providing financial incentive to throw away less and recycle more.

Joining Sun Valley in its crusade against global warming, the city of Hailey recently formed a climate protection committee. In May, the Hailey City Council adopted a climate protection plan the committee had drafted.

Earlier this spring, the Hailey committee also undertook a number of projects, including a walk-through of city facilities with ERC and Idaho Power representatives to determine low-cost energy-reduction methods, and partnering with the ERC and Smart Moves to provide an electronics recycling event later this summer.

The committee has also implemented lighting conservation measures in city buildings and lowered the need for air conditioning by installing heat-blocking film on the windows of city offices.

Barry is optimistic the city of Ketchum will soon sign on to the mayors' climate protection agreement as well.

The importance of the global warming issue has been recognized by many U.S. businesses, he said.

Barry noted the May announcement by Citibank that it will direct $50 billion over the next 10 years to address global warming through investments, financings and related activities to support the commercialization and growth of alternative energy and clean technology.

He hopes the local trend initiated to a large degree by regional governments to address reductions in carbon footprints will soon begin to trickle down to area businesses and citizens.

Steps people can take to reduce their carbon footprints include limiting the accumulation of solid waste, building "greener," more energy-efficient buildings and better managing energy consumption.

"It touches us so much," Barry said.

Not to ignore its role in the issue, the ERC is looking internally to determine ways it might reduce its own contribution to global warming.

"I want this organization to look at reducing their carbon footprint," Barry said.

Steps taken to reduce one's carbon footprint can have benefits that extend beyond just having a positive impact on the global warming issue, he said. Barry said a recent study indicated up to 20 percent better test scores from students who attend school in green buildings, compared with students studying in school buildings built by more traditional means.

"It's startling," he said of the study's results.

A recent program initiated by the ERC to address steps individuals can take to address their carbon footprints is just another example of the heightened awareness about global warming locally, Barry said. The initiative, called "COmmit 2 Take Action," seeks to quantify the positive steps individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprints, he said.

"Anything you're hoping to make progress on you've got to measure," Barry said.

The program asks local residents to sign a pledge committing themselves to take action reduce their own carbon footprint. Participants in the program can elect to pursue one of three levels—gold, silver or bronze—related to reducing their level of carbon dioxide (CO2) output.

Following a detailed plan of action laid out by the ERC, those seeking the gold level can reduce their CO2 output by 60 percent, or on average 30,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide output annually. Those seeking the silver level will reduce their CO2 output by 45 percent, or on average 22,500 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide output annually, while those seeking the bronze level will reduce their CO2 output by 30 percent, or on average 15,000 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide output annually.

For more information on the COmmit 2 Take Action program, contact the ERC at 726-4333.

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