The Centre Region is continuing to take steps to develop a climate action plan, and residents have ideas for local improvement and projects.
More than 100 people participated in a virtual community forum Tuesday to discuss climate impacts in the Centre Region and how to address them. Hosted by the Centre Region Council of Governments and facilitated by Penn State environmental mediation students, the event is the latest effort to engage with residents as the COG drafts a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which is expected to be completed by the end of summer.
“Local actions are one of the most important ways we can bring lasting positive change,” Centre Regional Planning Agency Director Jim May told the 158 participants. “That will help mitigate some of the impacts of climate change where we live.”
In the last century, State College has seen a 55% increase in extreme rain, COG Sustainability Planner Pam Adams said Tuesday. Power outages have doubled in the last decade, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spent an extra $125.7 million on flood and landslide infrastructure in 2018 alone, she said. Following the wettest summer on record in Centre County, the State College Area School District had to pay more than $500,000 for cleanup and repairs after mold and mildew were found in Corl Street and Radio Park Elementary schools and Mount Nittany Middle School.
Farmers also have to adapt to changing weather patterns, Adams said. Centre County’s more than 1,000 farms are estimated to generate $91 million in sales, she added.
“There certainly is risk to the places that we love today — the way we farm, what we farm,” May said. “If you’re a hunter, how we protect habitat, where our energy comes from, how we protect roads and other private investment from damage from flooding and other winter weather events, and how we can protect water quality, among other things.”
In breakout rooms, participants discussed the potential need for changes to development and use requirements in residential and commercial areas, incentivizing green infrastructure, education and community outreach, mitigating plastic use and preserving green space. Other suggestions included improving agricultural techniques, planting more trees and enhancing public transportation.
The benefits of investing in sustainable energy go beyond reduced greenhouse gas emissions, Adams said. They also result in social equity, environmental justice and reduced cost over the long term, she added.
“By having these conversations and more of them, we believe it will prepare our community to build for the next phase,” Adams said. “We’ll be ready for implementation the more we can talk about it now, and we’ll be more prepared for future emergencies.”
In July, the COG adopted a climate resolution, committing itself to a “pragmatic, fiscally responsible” strategy to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in 2050. The resolution identifies actions that aim to increase energy efficiency and protect the region from climate vulnerabilities.
Recently, the COG launched a community survey to collect feedback on climate change. The survey, which will be open until the end of the month, asks questions about support for local government initiatives and strategies, factors that affect the likelihood of following sustainable practices and more. Participants are asked to complete the survey by April 30, and respondents could win an Envinity home energy audit or a Downtown State College Improvement District gift card.
As efforts to draft the plan and present initiatives to municipalities, Adams said there will be additional opportunities for community feedback. For more information on local climate action planning, visit centresustains.com.
“I really encourage you all to have those conversations with people in your community to keep this growing and this conversation going so that we can continue to make changes and be moving things forward,” Adams said.