Athens City commits to fighting climate change

by Emily Crebs

Athens County Municipal Court. Photo by Emily Crebs

Athens City Council has announced, not only its belief in climate change but a promise to make the climate a priority in its agenda. 

Athens City Council passed a Climate Emergency Resolution on Feb. 3, which is worded as a call to action for the city to mobilize and take steps to locally reduce its impact on the environment. 

Chris Fahl, an Athens City council member who put together the resolution, indicated that it is stronger than typical resolutions. 

“Resolutions do not have any implied law with [them]. However, for the city, it’s like a marching order,” Fahl said. “This has more direction than other resolutions.”

The resolution calls Athens to focus the All City Boards and Commissions meeting, “on the formation of citywide climate protection strategies and priorities.” 

Athens will engage and mobilize the citizenry against climate change, as well as send a copy of the resolution to state government offices, such as the governor’s.

Fahl described resolutions like the Climate Emergency as Athens speaking to the state legislature about what the city and its people believe. The resolution also serves to expand the work Athens has already been doing to combat climate change, according to Fahl. 

“Athens has been doing a lot for a number of years when it comes to climate. It’s out there, but we don’t celebrate it very well, and we don’t use it good enough,” Fahl said. 

The Climate Emergency says that Athens commits to ending “citywide greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible and no later than 2030.” 

The council members described programs already put in place in Athens that reduce carbon and greenhouse emissions, including electrical aggregation and solar energy. 

Electricity in Athens comes from AEP Ohio. Citizens who have AEP electricity are involved in an electrical aggregation, which means that all electrical bills involved in the aggregation are considered together while negotiating with an electrical company for better rates. Most of the negotiation is done by the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council. 

Fahl said that one of the largest users of electricity is the Athens water and sewage treatment plant. Recently, the city has unveiled a plan in which solar panels will generate enough energy to run the plant, the city pool and the city’s laboratory, according to a report by The Athens NEWS.

Beth Clodfelter, a City councilmember and environmental advocate, said one of the initiatives she is passionate about is reducing the “red tape” around solar panels for citizens and businesses. 

“I just don’t think we should stand in the way, slow down and annoy anybody who wants to go solar and help the environment,” Clodfelter said. 

The city’s agenda already has plans to celebrate and combat climate change with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in April.

Clodfelter said the celebration will be a month long and various groups will be planting trees around the city. 

The tree density in Athens has significantly decreased in the last four decades. Since the loss has been gradual, many citizens are not aware of it, according to Clodfelter.  

Trees have many benefits to the environment and people. They sequester carbon from the air, shade homes to reduce the need for air conditioning, provide homes for animals and cool the air around them, Clodfelter explained

Curbside composting is an initiative that Clodflelter hopes will expand in the future. Currently, it’s in a pilot phase, and citizens must pay about $21 a month to participate in the composting. Clodfelter said composting reduces the amount of methane emissions that are released by food waste in landfills, and instead, the food scraps create rich soil.

Throughout her life, Fahl has been an advocate for the environment. She grew up in Northern California and fought against nuclear energy in the presidency of Reagan. Fahl was angered by the government cutting down old-growth in states like Oregon, Washington and California. 

Fahl channeled her passion for the environment into running an environmental education program that focused on environmental activism. She is passionate about the environment “because it’s what sustains life.” 

Clodfelter also fell in love with nature at an early age. She described the beauty of her family-owned property in Indiana where her family meets annually for a reunion. Clodfelter’s grandfather introduced her to the majesty of trees. 

“I don’t know how old I was. I remember really distinctly walking on this path in the woods, with him. He was holding my hand, that was over my head, I was little,” Clodfelter said with a smile. “He was teaching me the different kinds of trees. It was important for him for me to know that.”

She reflected that her passion for trees specifically could have stemmed from those memories with her grandfather. 

“Maybe having him point out to me that a tree is not just a tree, that it’s a special kind of tree,” Clodfelter said. “And you need to honor it by learning it and paying attention to it.”

Clodfelter said in elementary school, she converted her family to recycling. As a high schooler, she gave presentations to elementary schools about the benefits and need to recycle. After college, she worked for an environmental nonprofit in Central America. 

Clodfelter was elected to her first term on City Council last November, and her main goal in the position is to improve Athens’s sustainability. She gave examples of how this could be done by planting more trees and creating pollinator gardens. 

The resolution said, through economic and sociological changes, “Athens can act as a global leader.”

Fahl explained why, despite Athens’s size, global impact is possible: “The power of persuasion.” 

Fahl has attended city conferences in which representatives from different cities meet and discuss city programs. She said that many Athens initiatives, such as Athens’s electrical aggregation, can be shared and implemented in other communities. 

Clodfelter emphasized the impact that a local community can have on a global issue. 

“While we can’t change the whole planet, I really am a believer that think globally act locally slogan, that what we can control is right here,” Clodfelter said. “We the people of Athens can make a difference right here in this town.”

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