Bite-size Solutions –
Responding to the climate emergency is an all hands on deck moment. Urging the City Council and the Clark County Public Utilities District and other local governing bodies to declare a climate emergency and adopt climate action plans is crucial but even as we do so, we cannot wait for them to design and implement solutions. Bureaucracy is not well-known for moving swiftly or nimbly. DRAWDOWN, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, is an excellent book and ongoing global conversation with climate solutions we can implement today. Some creative strategies for moving more people to take immediate action are needed.
A locally-grounded climate justice coalition could begin by reaching out to local groups, organizations, agencies, and neighborhood associations to get existing efforts scaled up and to develop new approaches where needed. The focus is on moving people to action by developing a menu of bite-sized ways to begin implementing solutions.
There are bite-size climate solutions we can implement in our neighborhoods. These include keeping kitchen waste out of landfill with neighborhood composting, using the resulting compost in permaculture and bio-habitant projects in our yards and publicly-owned open spaces, planting deciduous trees for cooling (and food), reducing water use and fertilizer runoff by replacing lawns, and supporting mature trees with appropriate companion plantings and mulching for maximum moisture retention. Sharing skills, tools, seeds, and organizing work parties will support people in getting to know their neighbors which in itself creates more resilience.
There are impediments to implementing some of these climate solutions. For example, composting food waste is not accessible to many people Vancouver. Folks who do not have yard waste/organics service from Waste Connections, either because they live in apartments or cannot afford the addition fees, have no choice but to dispose of food waste in their regular garbage that gets shipped to a landfill where it releases methane. Even the service provided by Waste Connections is flawed as it ships organic waste a hundred miles away to be composted and a hundred miles back if we want to use the compost here! Many local resources such as Clark County Composts (https://clarkcountycomposts.org) seem directed at people who own land and live in single family houses. Impediments need to be cleared away and access to these solutions need be supported in every neighborhood.
Making it easier for all people regardless of income or neighborhood to make earth friendly choices that build community resilience is crucial. Many programs that teach people how to grow food such the Seed To Supper program, offered through Oregon Food Bank, and Mudbone Grown, which is working to establish a more just and equitable sustainable food system in the Portland Metro area through the incubation of small agricultural businesses for farmers of color, are at capacity and are not accepting new applicants. The Backyard Habitat program has a six-month wait list for an initial call back. There is more demand for knowledge than the current programs are providing. We can support the expansion of existing programs and help develop new ones. We can organize events that raise funds and awareness, and bring people together to meet the need for education and resources.
Where to start –
One challenge to bringing people together in Vancouver is finding a place to gather. One possible solution would be to convene neighborhood meetings on school property and in the school buildings. We need to make the best use of our publicly-owned assets. We are aware of unmet needs and underused assets. Let’s explore how our community’s investment in school buildings and surrounding under-utilized acreage can better serve not only students, but their families and neighborhoods.
National Education Association’s Community School model may be helpful. The NEA defines a Community School as a center of the community that brings together academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement under one roof, leading to improved learning, stronger families, and healthier communities.
The Community School model has the potential of maximizing the use of assets like school buildings by having them in use every day, all year long. It can provide services for families and neighbors including adult education, business incubation, health care and emergency preparedness. Many schools also have under-utilized grounds that could be used for community garden space, greenhouses, rainwater catchment, tool libraries, repair cafes, small machine shops, and other uses that produce economic benefits for neighborhoods. Spaces for music, art and dance can also serve students and adults.
Having programs like this near or adjacent to schools can provide students, families and neighbors with a place to share skills and develop a healthier and more prosperous Vancouver. In many places in Vancouver, such a scheme would create more walkable neighborhoods. School properties can serve as the neighborhood town square where economic opportunity, public services, health care, expanded educational offerings, cultural enrichment, and recreation converge.
One area that might benefit from the Community School model is the Bagley Downs Neighborhood where Roosevelt Elementary, iTech, Jim Parsley Center, Vancouver Flex Academy and Bagley Downs Park properties connect. There are expanses of publicly-owned property currently maintained as turf grass that could be transformed into a cornucopia of climate-friendly, community serving uses.
Connecting dots –
A crucial need for schools and neighborhoods is a place to gather in case of emergency or in the aftermath of a disaster. Neighborhood schools, especially the newly built ones are probably the most seismically sturdy structures in our neighborhoods. We need a plan to protect our children and elderly, disabled or injured neighbors. The CRESA Household Emergency Plan Template calls for keeping 72 hours worth of food and water on hand but many students rely on school lunch and many residents in our neighborhoods rely on services like Meals On Wheels. We need a more comprehensive and equitable approach to food and water security in times of emergency.
Another directive from CRESA instructs people to shut off their gas valve. In order for our schools to function as emergency centers for our neighborhoods, every school should be all-electric as quickly as possible with solar panels and onsite battery storage to provide power in an emergency. These school buildings need to be converted to all electric with heat-pumps replacing gas HVAC. Solar arrays need to be installed on the “solar-ready” rooftops. Onsite power storage can eventually be provided using integrated storage from electric vehicles.
Let’s begin convening meetings at each school, reaching out to parents and families and people from neighborhoods inviting them to join the conversation. We could be connecting with teachers, unions, neighborhood associations, non-profit groups, small businesses, service organizations, faith groups and other stakeholders to asking them to consider how they too can participate.