The city of Ann Arbor and nearly 40 partner organizations hosted a town hall on Wednesday at Cobblestone Farm to discuss how to help Ann Arbor approach carbon neutrality. At the event, more than 100 community members shared ideas and concerns regarding the city’s potential transition to net zero carbon emissions.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor opened the town hall by explaining Ann Arbor values carbon neutrality.
“Ann Arbor is a place that prides itself on its environmentalism,” Taylor said. “This is something that is really important to the heart of our community.”
In a City Council meeting on Nov. 4, councilmembers voted to declare a state of climate emergency and passed a resolution to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
Taylor said Ann Arbor has personally experienced the effects of climate change, referencing a one degree temperature increase during the last few years as well as a more than 45 percent increase in precipitation within the last 50 years. In 2017, the city allocated $880,000 to climate action, and the Office of Sustainability created a climate action plan for the next five years.
Additionally, Taylor said the city plans to have additional carbon neutrality town halls in the coming weeks to open up the conversation to more of the community.
Following Taylor, Regina Strong, environmental justice public advocate for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, spoke on environmental justice. Strong said community members must work together to create positive change.
In her presentation, Strong said the Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the fair and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.
“In creating an equitable environmental future, you’re talking about the environment, which is critically important,” Strong said. “As you do your work, you have to be very intentional about who is a part of the conversation, who’s impacted by the work.”
Strong said to work toward achieving carbon neutrality, the community should value inclusion by incorporating and valuing differences on a shared platform. She also said the community should take into consideration how the past shapes the present and social advantages and disadvantages to address equity.
“For justice to really be just, it has to come from everybody,” Strong said. “You learn so much more from having these diverse perspectives in the room.”
Missy Stults, Ann Arbor sustainability and innovations manager, also spoke at the town hall. Like Strong, Stults said the city must work together to be successful in achieving carbon neutrality and discussed the initiative to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
Stults also revealed the logo for the new carbon neutrality initiative, called A2Zero.
“Carbon neutrality probably means something to all of you … but for many people, it doesn’t,” Stults said. “We want people to know they’re part of this, part of what it is we’re talking about. This isn’t a four month journey, this is a 10-plus year journey.”
The town hall then moved to let attendees express their ideas and concerns about climate neutrality through writing on various posters hung up throughout the event space. Topics of discussion included energy, adaptation, mobility and resource reduction.
LSA senior Kristen Hayden, a staff member of Ann Arbor’s Department of Sustainability, told The Daily the decision to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 is a reaffirmation of Ann Arbor’s commitment to being a sustainable city.
“Carbon neutrality ties into all facets of community living,” Hayden said. “This is not just about emissions and pollution but about people and their relationship to the community.”
Ideally, Hayden said a carbon neutrality plan should put frontline communities first and support their energy and lifestyle needs while getting the community to zero carbon emissions.
Ann Arbor resident Mary Garton volunteers with Citizen’s Climate Lobby and Climate Reality Project. She told The Daily working towards carbon neutrality is an important step in reducing the effects of climate change.
“Efforts need to be taken at the city, state, county and national levels to reduce carbon emissions, not only because of climate change but because of air quality and water quality,” Garton said. “National legislation is needed as is state legislation, but in reality, cities need to pick up the ball because we’re living here and this is where the changes will happen.”