(This article is part of One United Lancaster’s reporting on the 2023 Lancaster County Climate Summit.)
One of the goals of the Lancaster County Climate Summit was to motivate local grassroots climate action.
Among the presenters offering ideas on that topic were The Rev. Dave Bushnell, Monica Carey and Malinda Clatterbuck. Bushnell and Clatterbuck are members of climate nonprofit RegenAll’s Lancaster Outreach Committee; Carey is Pennsylvania program director at Solar United Neighbors.
The Rev. David Bushnell: Climate Action Neighborhoods
The Rev. Dave Bushnell, the chair of the summit planning committee, is a leader of the Hamilton Park Climate Action Neighborhood (CAN) program – the first of its kind in Lancaster County.
A climate action neighborhood, or CAN, is a group of local citizens working together to raise awareness and implement healthy environmental practices. The more social capital a community has, the more potential it has to take effective action, Bushnell said.
A first step is to take stock of what is in your neighborhood. In Hamilton Park, he said, locals identified key landmarks like Valentino’s Restaurant, public park space and a local church, Highland Presbyterian.
Then neighbors can go to work promoting the connections that will improve their community’s climate response.
The Hamilton Park CAN sponsored a local lecture that drew 400 people to Highland Presbyterian and a farm-to-table dinner that drew about 60 people. The group worked with the School District of Lancaster to plant sunflowers at Wheatland Elementary School, and with Lancaster Township to find substitutes for toxic pesticides in local parks.
Other ideas: Plant-based cooking lessons, DIY home repairs, little libraries and “climate cinema,” where people get together to watch movies promoting climate action.
He also mentioned community gardens, stream cleanups and solar cooperatives.
Bushnell suggested thinking about how to use exterior areas of a residential property: For example, replacing lawns with native plants.
“It can be beautiful,” he said, “but we’re not just doing it because it’s trendy.”
He suggested communities should have shade tree commissions and outreach programs to help people understand rebates for green energy installations.
In the end, he said, this work will benefit everyone, because of the interconnectedness of natural systems.
A slide in his presentation depicted what some refer to as “six Americas,” denoting six common responses to the climate crisis: Alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful and dismissive. More than half of Americans identify with the first two responses.
Bushnell said he himself became motivated through his work on volunteer teams after storms like Hurricane Andrew and Katrina.
“It used to be that something happened somewhere, and you know – (people said) we’ve got to go there,” he said. But today, the threat of climate change can be seen much more broadly nearly anywhere in the country.
During a Q&A, Bushnell stressed that there is no “silver bullet” for climate response, but that, in keeping with the often-used analogy, there is a surprising amount of “silver buckshot.”
Voting, he said, is also a “significant action.”
Monica Carey: Solar Co-ops
Now is the right time for homeowners to go solar, and they can save money by joining a solar cooperative, Monica Carey said.
Carey works for Solar United Neighbors, or SUN a nonprofit solar advocacy group. It promotes solar power for residences, small businesses and nonprofits and lobbies for solar-friendly laws and regulations.
Earlier this year, SUN launched the Lancaster County Solar and EV Charger Co-op. Membership was at 86 as of Monday, with an eventual goal of 100.
A co-op gives households the power of numbers, Carey said. After exploring the solar power marketplace and deciding on their priorities and criteria, the co-op can solicit bids for solar installations as a collective. Installers know they are getting dozens of customers without having to market to them one-by-one: That savings, plus other efficiencies in planning and project management, generally allows them to offer discounts of around 10% to 15%.
Typically, solar customers will see the supply charge on their electric bill drop to $0 after installation. Installations have a 25-year life expectancy and at present-day pricing will pay for themselves in around eight to 12 years, Carey said. Helping to offset the cost: A 30% federal tax credit, extended to 2032 by the Inflation Reduction Act.
Joining a co-op is free and a good way to learn about the options, she said. There’s no commitment until a provider is selected and it’s time to sign a contract. Typically, 20% to 25% of co-op members ultimately decide to take the plunge, Carey said.
Not everyone can install solar: Condominium owners, for example, may not own their roofs, or homeowners associations may disallow solar. Solar United Neighbors is pushing for “Solar Access” legislation, as well as “community solar” legislation that would allow consumers to receive financial credit for subscribing to solar arrays in their region.
Malinda Clatterbuck: Opposing ‘corporate tyranny’ with principled action
“We live in a time of corporate tyranny,” Malinda Clatterbuck said, and it’s one of the main forces driving catastrophic climate change.
Ordinary people can and must resist, she said, offering strategies for doing so from political scientist Timothy Snyder, the Dalai Lama and environmental pioneer Rachel Carson.
Clatterbuck, a co-founder of Lancaster Against Pipelines, was the final speaker in a panel discussion on environmental rights in Pennsylvania. She drew heavily from Snyder’s brief book “On Tyranny,” published in 2017, drawing from its “20 lessons from the 20th century” on believing in truth, taking a stand, taking responsibility and adhering to professional standards of ethics and integrity.
Believing in the truth of climate change, she said, entails acknowledging the disparity between the overwhelming scientific consensus around climate change, and the disinformation promulgated by fossil fuel interests.
Activists, she said, have to stand firmly for climate justice despite public indifference or backlash, the way civil rights activists stood firmly against the injustice of segregation. The interests they are battling are powerful, she said, giving a brief synopsis of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and its industry-backed efforts to write state laws to order.
Taking responsibility includes being sensitive to how symbols are used to drive division and the desire for status and power, rather than build community. Lastly, professional ethical standards are a bulwark against anti-democratic abuses of power: Had Fox News respected the ethics of journalism, Clatterbuck said, it would not have spread the unfounded accusations about the 2020 election that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection and Fox’s recent $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems — though Clatterbuck doubts any lessons were learned.
The Dalai Lama, Clatterbuck said, advocates building peace by starting within oneself and building outward. As for Rachel Carson, whose work publicizing the dangers of DDT led to the creation of the Environmental Defense Fund and the insecticide’s eventual ban, she wrote that mankind’s “war against nature is inevitably a war against himself,” calling for a new era of maturity and self-restraint.
“Her words still ring true today,” Clatterbuck said. She urged her audience to embrace Carson’s vision: “Our planet cannot afford another generation of business as usual.”