3. Introducing a climate action platform

This show aired on Friday March 22, 2019 on PhillyCAM’s radio station WPPM 106.5 FM in Philadelphia. Hear the audio on PhillyCAM’s podcast site on Soundcloud. The script is below.

Meenal: Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host. I’m joined this week by long-time friend Tanya Seaman. Hi Tanya!

Tanya: Hi Meenal!

Meenal: Tanya co-founded and directed PhillyCarShare, which became the largest nonprofit car-sharing organization in North America.

We’ll start off with some News You Can Use.

Last week we talked about the global School Strike For Climate. Let’s hear from local youth leader Sabirah Mahmud from the School Strike For Climate in Philadelphia last Friday.

Meenal: Last March, per a poll conducted by Franklin & Marshall College, most Pennsylvania voters said climate change is causing problems now. Remember that, Tanya?

Tanya: Yes, I read about it in a StateImpact article. The Franklin & Marshall poll reported that 69% of voters want the state to prioritize making renewable energy available over extracting more fossil fuels. It also reported that 55% believe that the potential risks to our environment outweigh the potential economic benefits of drilling for fracked gas.

We should talk for a moment about why fossil fuels are bad, even quote-unquote “natural” gas, which is usually used in quote-unquote “energy efficient” appliances. Fossil fuels may be considered efficient, but their extraction from deep in the earth releases chemicals and gases that are poisonous to our air and water.  After they are extracted, they are transported to other locations by truck, rail, and pipeline. All of this transportation uses fossil-fuel energy, which emits greenhouse gases. This ongoing cycle of extraction and transport is required if we continue to use fossil fuels. Renewable energy, on the other hand, does not need to be extracted or transported, and does not pollute the air.

Meenal: Back to that poll…most of us think the climate crisis is causing problems now, and that we should prioritize the development of renewable energy over new fossil fuel projects. Connect that poll with this… That this May, all 17 members of Philadelphia’s City Council are up for re-election.

We therefore have an incredible opportunity to elect candidates who understand the pressing need to act on climate.

Realizing this, Tanya & I began making a list of what we might want from these candidates. We soon realized that many of our friends didn’t know what to ask for when they ask for climate leadership. As we added, and explained our list, it quickly became a 10-page document that we’ve called the Climate Action Platform for Philadelphia’s 2019 ElectionsYou can find this document at bit.ly/cap-phl.

Tanya: Meenal and I were inspired to create this platform after years of our own individual efforts to live as respectfully as we can to the environment. We are conscious consumers, which means we think carefully about what we buy, and we buy only what we need. We consider the companies that make and sell the things we need, we consider the materials they are made from, how durable they are, and how far they are shipped.

An example of this is food: I buy my produce from one of my nearby farmers markets because I want to support a local farming family that grows their food sustainably — without harmful chemicals. They are within a 30-minute drive from here — so their food doesn’t need to travel far or in refrigerated trucks. They also use very little packaging, which is important to me. My other groceries mostly come from bulk bins at a local market, so there is little to no packaging involved in that grocery run. I bring my own cloth bags and jars for my purchases.

I get around primarily by bike, and have for most of my adult life. So I am aware of how great it feels to travel under my own power, and how important it is that biking as transportation serves as my workout — without any extra effort to actually get to a gym (because that wouldn’t happen). I am also keenly aware of how dangerous it can feel, riding on streets that prioritize convenience for cars and not the safety of cyclists.

Meenal: I’m not as disciplined as Tanya, but I do try to live a zero waste lifestyle. What this means is that I use dish towels instead of paper towels in the kitchen, handkerchiefs instead of tissue in my pockets, cloth napkins slung over the back of my dining chair, ready to grab instead of paper napkins.  The paper products I do buy, like toilet paper and office paper, are from recycled content — 100% post consumer waste. This means no forests were cut down, and that my printer paper was once someone else’s printer paper!

Tanya: That’s a great example of a circular economy, where one company’s waste becomes the input for another company’s products.

Meenal: Yeah. Also, you will find that I will not drink from a single-use water bottle, even if you hand me one. Because after quenching my thirst, what would I do with that bottle? Most single-use water bottles never get recycled. Many end up clogging our storm drains. You’ll find me sporting a refillable water bottle instead. And when I head out for the day, I grab a couple of cloth bags hanging by the door, just in case I want to buy something. If I can remember my wallet & house keys, I can remember to grab the reusable bags too!

Meenal: I drive a car. A car that’s all-electric. A car that has no emissions coming from the tailpipe, because… our car has no tailpipe! It’s also a car that never needs to stop at a gas station since we recharge the car battery much like the mobile phone or laptop — by plugging it in overnight.

Tanya: We actually weirdly enjoy the challenge of living in a society that does not support living this way. It’s very important to us to live in line with our values and not just know the facts about climate change. We don’t see knowing the facts about climate change to be enough, and it seems like the right time to do a lot more than live our own, quiet lives as sustainably as we can.

It is time that our city and our culture make this easier for *everyone*. Our experiences have helped us come up with what is essentially a wish list of how to make adjustments in current policies so that we can all live more sustainable lives — consuming better products and creating fewer greenhouse gases.

The truth is, that even without a climate crisis to address, I think we can all agree that many of the improvements we are suggesting simply make Philadelphia a much more pleasant place to live.

Meenal: We have created this bold vision for Philadelphia and we are encouraging City Council candidates and incumbents to incorporate it into their platforms. We are telling you about it so you can decide if this is a future you want, so you can vote accordingly.

Tanya: Imagine walking home under a shady tree canopy on a hot day and feeling pretty comfortable. Once you’ve arrived home your house is pretty cool too – though you haven’t turned on the air conditioning. It’s cool because you live on a shady street and because you had your roof painted white and got a little insulation in your attic. The City did all of this. You don’t need to jack up your air conditioning and you’re not melting. Sweet!

Also imagine walking to work on “trash” day when you didn’t have to put out any trash. That’s because when you got a delivery from your favorite restaurant, you handed the courier your washed container from last time, you bought dry goods from bulk bins with your cloth bags, and bought produce in your mesh bags. So, no trash out on the curb. Your leftovers? They went into the fridge. Your cooking scraps? Out into your new composter the City provided and taught you how to use. It sits next to your rainwater barrel, also provided by the City. The City now spends much less money hauling food waste for landfill and treating rainwater.

Meenal: On your walk to work, the streets were being cleaned, and you were still able to listen to your favorite podcast because people were quietly sweeping with brooms. Many of the cars are electric, so they were quieter too. You didn’t need to check an air quality app because the air’s been good for years now.

Tanya: These proposals solve multiple problems that we currently experience, even without consideration of our climate crisis. We could all benefit from shaded streets in summer as we walk or bike down our streets or sit on our stoops. Caring for trees trains and employs people who otherwise might not have jobs or who would otherwise experience long commutes out of the city. Trees change the way we see our streets, and vehicles slow down when there are tree canopies, which is good for folks who travel by bike and on foot.

Meenal: The Climate Action Plan includes many of the ten-year goals put forth in the Green New Deal bill now being reviewed in Congress. It proposes transitioning to 100% renewable electricity, pushing buildings to have net zero-emission heating and cooling systems, reduce and eliminate fossil fuel in manufacturing and agriculture, promote and support post fossil-fuel transportation, and remove greenhouse gases.

Our top priorities are

  • To transition from fossil fuels to electricity powered by renewables;
  • To electrify our transportation
  • To reduce our use of single-use plastics.
  • To plant shade trees throughout the city, and
  • To promote active transportation like walking and biking
  • ……all while creating local jobs.

Today we’ll talk about the first section in our platform – Transition to 100% renewable electricity for all of our needs, resulting in net zero emissions by 2030, with an urgency befitting an extinction crisis.

Tanya: So, to break this down a little… We can (and should) avoid building new fossil fuel plants that burn coal, oil or gas. These plants generate electricity and, as a side effect, greenhouse gases. We can instead generate electricity from renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal power. Electricity from the wind would probably need to be produced outside of the city. Electricity from the sun can be produced right here on our rooftops and brownfields. You ask… What are brownfields? Brownfields are environmentally damaged sites that are often remediated so they can be repurposed. Electricity from geothermal power can be produced by tunneling under our streets and also under brownfields.

These initial investments have both short- and long-term payoffs. In the short run, we will all benefit from cleaner air. There is no fuel cost for a wind or solar project. This means that electricity from renewable sources costs very little to use. Their primary costs are for purchasing and installing the new technology, but after they are paid off, the energy is essentially free. For quite a long while…

Meenal: What can you do for your household? Begin looking around to see what uses fossil fuel and adds to our greenhouse gas emissions. Typically, households use energy to heat or cool the space. In our region, homes are usually heated with oil or gas boilers. They are cooled-off with electricity. We also use gas or electricity for our appliances and other labor-saving devices. To get around by car, we typically use gasoline.

How could each of us use less energy? Some things we can do on our own are…

Instead of air conditioners, use curtains to block the sun and use ceiling fans to move the air to help you feel cooler. When replacing a gas appliance, consider an electric appliance. Even if you don’t have solar panels on your roof today, electric appliances can, in the future, be powered by renewable sources.

Tanya: Here are some ideas on where we could use our government’s help. Instead of offering rebates for new *gas* appliances, the City of Philadelphia could work with PECO to offer rebates for new *electric* appliances.  In New Jersey, the utility offered a payment plan for new, efficient water heaters, making it easier to not just buy the cheapest appliance, but the most efficient one.

Meenal: The hardest part about replacing a gasoline-powered car with an electric car is figuring out where to recharge the battery. Most of us park on the street, making it awkward to pull an extension cord across the sidewalk. The City of Philadelphia could invest in curbside electric vehicle charging, much like London has.

Many of us don’t even own a car. Our transportation emissions come from riding a diesel bus across town. Instead of buying new diesel buses, we need to ask that all new vehicles are electric — the SEPTA buses, the City’s fleet, service vehicles, police cars, and even ambulances. All of them. Other cities are on this path. Our City should join them.

One of the first policy ideas from our platform — to eliminate our use of single-use plastic in everyday life — is actually going forward in Council right now. Having worked with a citizen-led group called Litter Free Philly, Councilman Squilla is about to introduce a bill to eliminate single-use plastic bags at the cash register in all stores. Litter Free Philly has been organized by several groups you may have heard of: Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment, and others.

Currently, single-use plastic bags are clogging our storm drains and water filtration systems, and it costs our city $12M every year to deal with them. In addition to the litter aspect, there is no real way to dispose of plastic bags. Single-use plastic goes into an incinerator, or ends up polluting our rivers and ocean, killing off marine life. When we incinerate plastic, it affects our own local air quality.

Groups are rallying public support for this bill so that stores don’t automatically hand us use-once-and-throw-away bags. Learn more at the website for a Litter Free Philly. The website is litterfreephily.wordpress.com. Again, that’s litter free philly dot wordpress dot com. They have a petition.

This bill is slated to be introduced later this spring, when we need to fill Council Chambers with people supporting a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Want to see fewer bags littering your neighborhood? Connect with others who want the same. Come to the Block Captain Rally, this Saturday March 23rd. It’s from 9 to 12 at the Convention Center, at 12th and Arch.

Thanks Tanya for joining me today. That was fun! I’m Meenal at Philly Talks Climate.

Tanya: And I’m Tanya at Philly Talks Climate. Here at PhillyCAM in Philadelphia!

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