by Joyce Marin
We are hearing a choir of voices around the world rising in urgency regarding Climate Action. Many people, especially young people, are gaining the courage to look at, inform themselves about, discuss and ask for Climate Action. Why? “Because there is no Planet B,” a young friend of mine says. In my role as executive director of RenewLV, the regional smart growth nonprofit in the Lehigh Valley, I manage the public outreach and engagement for Envision Lehigh Valley and the consortium that is developing a regional sustainability plan funded by a 3-year $3.4 million HUD Sustainability Planning Grant.
The plans that will result from this effort will help prepare the Lehigh Valley in a more sustainable way for the 165,000 more people expected to move here in the next 20 years. Studies are being developed in the topic areas of food, housing, transit, the environment and the economy and will include a regional climate action plan. Citizens can access drafts of the reports at www.envisionlehighvalley.com/documents. They can learn of and participate in upcoming public meetings about the various study areas at www.envisionlehighvalley.com/events.
My experience with the public engagement in the development of these plans has shown me that people are deeply involved in the topic. They are motivated toward individual and collective solutions that will improve our personal, community and global health. Over 6,000 people have come to community engagement events, taken surveys or participated in the outreach efforts in some way. Now, they are reading and responding to draft reports with commitment and interest.
I see citizens willing to take personal responsibility through finding their voice for improving individual and collective circumstances. It is in this context that I have invited the people of our region to take the Envision Lehigh Valley 2014 Sustainability Challenge: to find one MORE new sustainable activity that that they can begin in 2014. I ask you to join us in this effort, to consider what I call “the elegant solution,” to global climate change, that response to a complex challenge that benefits many aspects of the problem at once. In this case, our “elegant solution” would include the planet, our regional environment and economy, your neighborhood, your relationships with others and you personally, financially and physically. We are not talking about a single game-changing “other-directed” solution for our region, administered top down in an autocratic organizational structure.
Instead, what we seek are many small, organic personal improvements rising up from an engaged, resilient, interconnected citizenry that feels healing and empowering. These diverse, evolutionary, incremental changes will make our lives, our economy and the environment better with each action. They will help us to form and maintain relationships, strengthen the warp and weave of community and benefit us at both the micro and macro scale today and in the future. To participate with us in moving forward, I challenge you to find an activity that resonates with you, something that gives you joy.
Begin to organize some part of your life around beginning that one new thing… and then tell at least one other person (maybe me). Widen the circle, sharing the idea with even more people, explaining the local/global intention of your activity. Eventually, based upon how it works and whom you engage, you may scale your activity up into a neighborhood or regional activity. As you ponder the right activity for you, look for the singular and deceptively simple idea that works for you personally, but when multiplied throughout your network will make your heart sing with its increasingly impressive impact. I am presently speaking to community groups about this challenge and just now beginning to collect the harvest from this idea. So far, one young man has signed a lease on an apartment that is closer to his workplace, allowing him to dramatically shorten his commute and to consider bike commuting.
One woman has stated that she will not permit any plastic bags into her home. Another friend has committed to planting kale instead of purchasing it this year. Someone else is researching climate change deniers so that he can refute them. I, personally, have committed to organize flower and vegetable seeds saved from last year’s garden to share them with others, hopefully encouraging more people to start gardening while helping our bee and butterfly populations.
We look forward to your participating and engaging in the various Envision Lehigh Valley public meetings that will be held this year and encourage you to read and respond to the studies. Even more importantly, however, we look forward to hearing about that one personal activity that speaks to your heart and your own commitment for the environment. Take this challenge and you will feel empowered, engaged and energized, moving forward toward action a part of a community of people formed around your idea, doing your part toward helping yourself, our region and the world.
Joyce is Executive Director of RenewLV.
(Published in the 2014 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)