By Sara Baldwin
On Feb. 15, the meeting room at Carmel Clay Public Library was packed full of concerned citizens attending the Sustainable Living Seminar, co-hosted by Carmel Green Initiative and Hoosier Environmental Council, as a part of CCPL’s Science & Technology series.
The theme of this seminar was “2017 Climate Change, Let Your Voice Be Heard.” Attendants were there to learn more about sustainable living, environmental activism, and correlating public policy issues. Throughout the seminar, more chairs were brought in as the audience continued to grow in size.
Carmel Green Initiative is a coalition of citizens and community groups who promote and support the City of Carmel’s commitment to reducing environmental impact, with the goals of reducing waste, educating the public, and promoting clean and renewable energy solutions.
Leslie Webb, president and co-founder of Carmel Green Initiative, explained the initiative as the “self-appointed green team for the city of Carmel.”
Webb started off the seminar by leading an educational discussion on climate change.
“2016 is the hottest year on record,” Webb said. “And we have broken the heat record three years in a row.”
According to Webb, the scale and speed of climate change is getting so out of hand that the only way to truly change the course is by enacting policies that protect the environment, and this starts at a local level.
Jesse Kharbanda, the executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, discussed the historical trajectory of Indiana policies away from environmental protection.
“We are the only state in America that has abolished its energy efficiency program,” Kharbanda said.
However, Kharbanda said the amount of energy the state gets from coal has gone down from the mid-90s to the low-80s, percentage-wise.
Kharbanda discussed an aspiration of becoming even less coal dependent.
“A major player in that future vision is rooftop solar,” Kharbanda said.
He described some of the state’s hurdles in making rooftop solar accessible to the public, including proposed public policies that would allow energy companies to charge owners additional fees for owning solar panels.
Kharbanda said that, although the Hoosier Environmental Council would like to be proposing new policies to promote sustainable living and climate mitigation, most of what they are doing involves pushing back against bad legislation.
He also discussed climate mitigation at a federal level. Some of the Hoosier Environmental Council’s main concerns are the impact of the oil industry, as well as the fear that America will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
“Looking at things from a climate lens, there is a lot to be greatly concerned about,” Kharbanda said, referring to national policies.
Amanda Shepherd, Senior Outreach Associate at the Hoosier Environmental Council, took Kharbanda’s information a step further by discussing climate advocacy in Indiana and providing steps toward action.
Shepherd described how a citizen would contact their local representative and ask them to vote yes or no on certain bills, in order to move Indiana policy toward environmental action.
She asked the attendants to push back against HB 1494, a bill that she says would seriously undermine Indiana’s already weak safeguards towards factory farms.
Also discussed were SB 309, HB 1001, and SB 420.
Following Kharbanda and Shepherd, University of Indianapolis Visiting Fellow and former Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard briefly discussed his vision for the Indiana Advanced Energy Plan. Ballard is working with a group of students to create a sustainable energy plan for the State of Indiana. The students will present this plan to lawmakers in April.
Ballard introduced all of the students in the program, and then turned the floor over to two of his Indiana Advanced Energy Plan interns, Rowan Farrell and John Guggenheim.
Farrell and Guggenheim discussed the need to see a reduction in obstacles against climate mitigation, including limiting the power of Home Owners Associations to restrict wind and solar power in neighborhoods. They provided the crowd with several ideas to reduce carbon emission and use less energy. They then opened the floor to the attendants, fielding questions and ideas for environmental action at a local level.
For more information on Carmel Green Initiative, visit carmelgreen.org.
For more information on the Hoosier Environmental Council and upcoming proposals, visit hecweb.org.