"Saving Our Planet: Starting in Our Community" — a virtual event in recognition of Earth Day hosted by the Charlottesville National Organization for Women and the Sierra Club Piedmont Group on Thursday — showcased local efforts in Charlottesville and Albemarle County to mitigate the effects of climate change.
During the event, Gabe Dayley and Susan Elliot, Albemarle County and City of Charlottesville climate protection program managers, presented current plans and goals from their jurisdictions to fight climate change.
“The program’s core focuses on helping the community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change,” Elliot said. “So climate resilience and climate adaptation — what that ends up looking like is a myriad of things.”
The Climate Protection Program provides services and resource programs directly to members of the community, such as the composting program. Working with community partners aids the program in communicating information to residences and businesses about retrofits to buildings, energy efficiency updates and increasing support and participation in campaigns like Solarize Charlottesville — which aims to reduce the cost and complexity of switching to solar energy. Additionally, the program looks at policy and helps other City of Charlottesville departments improve operations related to climate.
In Dayley’s presentation, he introduced information about a new resource on the Albemarle County website. The Environmental Stewardship Hub — which will launch April 22 — will be a one stop webpage to learn about county programs such as biodiversity, climate action, clean water and reduce waste as well as different paths for community members to take against climate change.
Elliot also provided some goals and updates for Charlottesville. Since 2011, Charlottesville has seen a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, leading to current goals of reducing emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
As a member of the Global Covenant of Mayors — a global alliance for city climate leadership — Charlottesville has measured city wide greenhouse gas emissions, set a greenhouse gas reduction target, started developing a climate action plan, assessed climate vulnerabilities and started a climate adaptation plan by identifying climate hazards.
In addition to Dayley and Elliots’s presentations, Office for Sustainability Director Andrea Trimble shared the University’s climate action goals and accomplishments.
“Our first goal was a 25 percent reduction below 2009 levels by 2025,” Trimble said. “We achieved that six years early in 2019 through several different measures — utility scale solar, a lot of work on the district plant side and lots of work in existing buildings.”
The new goals set by the University are becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel free by 2050. As of 2020, the University has recorded a 43.9 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2010.
In 2019, the University partnered with William and Mary to help each other meet carbon footprint reduction goals. This partnership has aided the University in its efforts to finalize its first climate action plan.
If the University continues existing strategies like decarbonizing new and existing buildings — which consists of reducing or eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from a building’s energy reserve — and increasing renewable energy sources, 56 percent of projected emissions — the amount of purchased electricity emissions from the University in 2020 — could be eliminated.
Peggy Van Yahres — Charlottesville Tree Commission Chair and the final event speaker — shared the commission’s progress and plans in increasing the tree canopy in Charlottesville.
“Every four to five years we do a canopy study to see what the tree cover is in Charlottesville, whether it's growing or declining,” Van Yahres said “ We can see from 2004 to 2018 that our canopy has declined 10 percent.”
Van Yahres’ presentation described multiple ways the loss of trees is affecting the local climate — including the inadequacy of the current tree planting level. The standing yearly goal is 200 trees, but that goal has not been achieved yet. In fact, Charlottesville is often losing more trees than it plants in a year. Additionally, neighborhoods with low tree canopy such as 10th and Page experience higher energy costs
“Many families there pay 10 percent or more for energy, whereas the average in the city is 2.3 percent of a family’s income,” Van Yahres said.
Van Yahres also described a new fund initiated by the commision, ReLeaf Cville.
“Our [ReLeaf Cville] three objectives are to plant trees, preserve trees and educate,” Van Yahres said. “We’ve really done more on the education piece, particularly with kids and teenagers.”
The Tree Commission is not the only organization working to involve students in combating climate change. U.Va. Sustainability works with students attending the University to educate their peers about the importance of sustainability.
In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Julianne Feuchter, a second-year College student and student employee on the outreach team for the Office of Sustainability, explained what U.Va. Sustainability is doing on the student level. Feuchter leads the Sustainability Advocates Program — which focuses on semester-long projects based on an overarching theme — with two other student employees.
Outside of Feuchter’s job on the outreach team, she has been working on zero waste trainings for contracted independent organizations and Greek life. The trainings are 15 to 20 minutes presentations that give CIOs the resources they need to host their own zero waste events while also informing them of the University’s climate goals.
Currently, the Office for Sustainability runs three climate oriented student leadership programs — the Sustainability Advocates, the Zero Waste Ambassadors Program and the Eco Leaders Program.
Feuchter also mentioned lifestyle changes that students can make to take action against climate change, including reducing waste and the use of single use plastics, attempting to incorporate plant based eating habits and decreasing consumption of fast fashion.
In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Elliot gave similar suggestions for students.
“If one day a week or two days a week students can start shifting some of their behaviors,” Elliot said. “All of that eventually does add up.”
In terms of volunteering and getting involved with programs outside of the University, Van Yahres suggested volunteering with community organizations like ReLeaf Cville.
“We could use volunteers for planting trees,” Van Yahres said. “We’re also going to start a teenage ambassador program in the 10th and Page neighborhood, so we could eventually use volunteers to help us with that.”
While individual efforts are needed to combat climate change, the action being done on the community level is just as vital. Through the efforts addressed during Saving Our Planet by the Climate Protection Program in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, the University and the Charlottesville Tree Commission, the Charlottesville area is making progress against climate change.