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New Leaders Council Hosts Climate Discussion on Eve of Youth Strike

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea New Leaders Council Hosts Climate Discussion on Eve of Youth Strike
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Thursday night, on the eve of the global youth climate strike, dozens of young progressives gathered at the Rambling House on Hudson Street to engaged in a climate action roundtable discussion organized by the New Leaders Council of Columbus. The Columbus NLC is a chapter of a national nonprofit with the goal of organizing and training Millennials who are interested in progressive policies.

Columbus NLC hosted three panelists for the night’s climate discussion; Dylan Borchers, an energy attorney with the law firm Bricker & Eckler, Miranda Leppla, vice president of energy policy with the Ohio Environmental Council, and Leo Almeida, senior policy associate with The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. The three panelists answered questions from a moderator and the audience on subjects ranging from energy efficiency and the recently passed nuclear bailout measure House Bill 6, to the successes and failures of local environmental advocacy and the new youth momentum on climate change, embodied by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

“We’re very lucky that there are young people that are pushing this forward and pushing the conversation forward,” said Leppla.

During the discussion, Leppla pointed out one less obvious way that young people in cities like Columbus can be left out of the fight against climate change. Renters, many of whom are climate-conscious Millennials, generally don’t have the same ability as homeowners to implement energy saving measures for their residences.  

“Unless you convince the owner of your building to install, you cannot do solar on your own roof,” said Leppla. “When I rented, I remember, if… my lightbulb went out, the owner of the building would offer to replace that. But if it wasn’t an LED, I thought, well if he’s not willing to pay for an LED then I’ll pay for an LED because it was that important to me. So it increases the cost for you as a renter.”

Policies have to change, said Leppla, to allow young people who are renting to take more control of their energy consumption and carbon footprint.

“Young people are the people that are pushing forward on climate change,” said Leppla, so there should be policies that allow renters to take advantage of renewable energy and “incentivize the owners of those multifamily units or the owners of larger buildings to do energy efficiency to reduce costs for the people that live in it, and to make those homes more energy efficient.”

Photo provided by Erika Davis

While much of the night’s discussion focused on urban areas like Columbus, attention was also paid to the climate situation in rural Ohio. Borchers, who described himself as a “soil nerd,” talked briefly about the relationship between soil, agriculture and climate change. Borchers is a renewable energy attorney and not an expert on agriculture, but said, “I grew up on a farm, so I’ve always had that in my blood.” He especially had sympathy for those farmers who want to diversify their income by putting up wind turbines on their land, attempting to “harvest the wind” as they would any other crop. 

“The footprint of a wind turbine after it’s built is pretty small, we’re looking at a half acre,” said Borchers. “So if you have a thousand-acre field, you’re still farming almost all of that field, but you get an annual lease payment. And so if you have an off-year where there was bad weather, like we’ve experienced here this past year where half the corn didn’t go in this year, you have some revenue, and that can really make the difference between a farmer being able to keep the land or not.”

Almeida also expressed great respect for Ohio farmers and talked about working closely with them on issues related to water quality, nutrient runoff and the algal bloom issues in Lake Erie, all of which are problems that can be exacerbated by climate change. Farmers, said Almeida, have been very receptive to the runoff problem, and “they want to do the right thing.”

Communicating environmentalism and climate urgency, according to Almeida, is all about knowing the audience.

“If I’m talking to a group of farmers, I’m not going to talk about climate change, I’m going to talk about weather patterns or rain events and growing seasons, things that make sense to them,” said Almeida. “When I’m in Columbus, I can talk about air quality issues, that’s really important here. If I’m in Southeast Ohio… I don’t even talk about clean energy, I’m just talking about energy, because people there worked in the coal mines, they are the reason that we were able to have power supplied throughout our country, and to imply through saying ‘clean energy’ that what they were doing was ‘dirty,’ it wasn’t at the time.”

Climate change, said Almeida, does not have to be a partisan, polarizing issue. And perhaps the new youth momentum can force the issue permanently to the forefront of global consciousness.

“I think it’s exciting, it’s something that so many people finally care about and they’re willing to speak up about it and that’s something that we’ve only seen a little bit of before,” said Almeida. “I think it’s great that we’re not waiting for Earth Day to talk about climate change.”

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