This morning I was very pleased to be one of two candidates running for County Council, At-Large in Frederick County to receive the endorsement of the Catoctin Group of the Sierra Club and the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club! (The only other candidate to receive this endorsement is Mark Long.)
Unlike some of the other organizations that send out questionnaires, conduct face-to-face interviews and make endorsements, the Sierra Club does not publish all the responses they get from the candidates that participate. But there’s no problem with each candidate publishing their own, and I’m doing so here. (In addition, I would encourage voters to ask the other candidates to do the same thing, whether those candidates received this endorsement or not.)
Below please find: 1) The original email message from the Sierra Club, and 2) The questions they asked and my responses to them, and 3) Links to various websites and social media pages for the Sierra Club.
PLEASE NOTE: This was not written for a campaign brochure, so to speak, and it not brief!
Frederick County Executive and Council Questionnaire 2018
Candidate name: Kai Hagen
District number: N/A
Office sought: County Council, At-Large
Party affiliation: Democratic Party
Home address: [deleted]
Home email: email@example.com
Campaign address: Friends of Kai Hagen
PO Box 4174
Frederick MD 21705
Campaign phone: 240-405-2536 (personal cell)
Campaign email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Campaign website: https://kaihagen.com/
Other social media sites: https://www.facebook.com/friendsofkaihagen/
Campaign Coordinator: Cindy Shubin
February 28, 2018
Please complete the questionnaire as soon as possible. Although this document will not be shared outside of the confidential endorsement process, Sierra Club and Clean Water Action reserve the right to make public specific portions of this document, should a candidate’s stated position directly contradict submitted answers, during the campaign or after taking office.
Please describe which environmental issues are most important to you and why. How would you address them if you are elected?
It’s hard to respond to the first part of this question as it is presented, because:
1) The most serious environmental problems that confront us are either closely related or substantially overlapping, and/or, at the very least, they are caused by related activities. They can not be adequately addressed, much less resolved…enough…by treating them as separate and distinct, individual issues or problems, the best option is to implement and execute, as much as possible, a systemic approach.
2) In a zero sum world, it would be more necessary or reasonable to talk about environmental priorities, or even a sort of environmental triage. But, again, a more correct or precise understanding of the problems and challenges on the one hand, and the solutions and opportunities on the other, makes it clear that a broader, systemic approach makes it unnecessary to choose one problem over another. We don’t need to see things as either/or, and in some critical matters, we don’t have time for it.
3) The only thing…even though it is a big thing…that prevents us from taking the broader systemic approach is politics. In other words, even though our scientific understanding of the problems continues to advance, and new and promising technologies continue to develop and evolve, we already know enough about the problems and available, practical and realistic solutions to effectively address these challenges. That isn’t the problem. Practically speaking, however, that means that the smartest or best approach, in a given jurisdiction, with it’s own political realities and limitations, is to figure out what meaningful or effective strategies are practically available and possible, and start there.
If we are doing things right, a proper systemic approach means that our solutions address many seemingly separate issues, while avoiding new problems, and, at the same time, generating real and tangible environmental and economic benefits. That is no less true at the local level.
It’s all connected.
Having said all that, however, if I must identify the environmental issues that are of greatest concern to me, they would certainly be climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
These two problems are the most dramatic and serious threats we face, to the biological integrity of the planet and to the wellbeing of human civilization…everywhere.
HOW I would address these and other environmental issues affecting our world and our local community as a county council member — or what is more or less possible — would depend substantially on who else is serving on the council with me, and who is the county executive.
In either case, however, you have to do the best you can. Among other things that means raising and highlighting issues, engaging fellow council members, county staff, stakeholders and the public as much as possible, gathering and providing information, identifying smart, effective and practical solutions, and making as much progress towards those goals as possible.
One final note to this opening passage: It is very important to understand that virtually everything that we can do at the local level to reduce or mitigate our contribution to climate change is something that is smart for us to do anyway, for both environmental and economic reasons. I look forward to expanding on that either below or in the face-to-face interview.
List any past energy or environmental initiatives you have promoted.
It’s hard to know where to start with this, since I have spent a large portion of my adult life working on behalf of the environment, as a volunteer, as an intern, and, for many years, as full time staff with a variety of organizations, primarily — but not only — in Minnesota, California and Maryland, and, in a way, for four years as an elected county commissioner. I won’t, but I could go into real detail about a long and diverse list of issues I’ve worked on, for weeks, months, and in some instances, years.
A limited sampling, however, would include Peregrin falcons, prairie preservation and restoration, water quality in Lake Superior and the Great Lakes, off-shore oil drilling, recycling and other waste management issues, the fight to preserve old growth redwood forests, land use and planning, and much more.
Also happy to share more about any of that in the interview.
Perhaps also worth mentioning is that in 1988, while living in Minnesota, I authored a book, entitled “Parks and Wildlands, a guide to the natural areas and natural history of a Maryland-sized region of Minnesota around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Because it is more recent and relevant here, I will highlight some of the related efforts from my time as a Frederick County Commissioner. From December 2006 to December 2010, I served a one of five county commissioners in Frederick County.
Among other things, and in no particular order, we:
• Established the Office of Environmental Sustainability and Frederick County Sustainability Commission (This was done without adding any additional costs to county taxpayers. And, in fact, the work of the office has been responsible for significant saving in energy consumption and other areas.)
• Established a county Energy Conservation Plan (which included a goal of 50% renewable energy).
• Purchased a number of hybrid vehicles in Fleet Services, and two hybrid buses for county Transit services. (This was a lot less common then, and was part of achieving a greater than 10% reduction in county fuel consumption.)
• Supported the strengthening of the Frederick County Forest Resource Ordinance.
• Converted the Park and Recreation Department (which was buried within the Division of Public Works) into a an upper level division of county government, and worked to expand its scope and mission.
• Installed a Solar Water Heating Project at the Frederick County Detention Center
• Applied LEED building standards for the then-new Brunswick Branch Library and Catoctin Creek Nature Center (opened in 2011) which also has a green roof and geo-thermal heating.
* Passed what was at the time the strongest stream buffer protection ordinance in the State of Maryland.
• Supported amendments to zoning to better enable solar and wind systems for on-site generation and use. (This helped county residents qualify for state and federal tax credits and incentives. It was a good step, but I think the result was overly restrictive, and I supported broadening the scale of the systems that are permitted, with appropriate setbacks, etc.)
• While on the Board of County Commissioners, I also served, for all four years, on many different boards and commissions, including these related ones:
— Planning Commission
— Parks and Recreation Commission (I also served on this commission for the four years before I was a commissioner)
— Agricultural Business Council
— Solid Waste Advisory Committee
• Reduced by approximately half the development potential of the county’s Resource Conservation zones by changing the minimum lot size from five to ten acres.
• Development and adoption of the new and updated Frederick County Comprehensive Plan (this was an extremely rigorous two and a half year process)
Among other things, the 2010 Comprehensive Plan (and map) reduced sprawl and focused growth in traditional growth areas where infrastructure exists or can be provided more efficiently. It protected rural areas and historic, cultural and environmental elements of the county. The plan responsibly accommodated residential and business growth to meet the state’s population projects for the county over the next 15 to 20 years, including 3,000 acres of vacant zoned land available for business development. It also included new Priority Redevelopment Areas and Priority Preservation Areas in a number of productive agricultural areas of the county.
NOTE: Very unfortunately, significant parts of the land use designations and zoning map that implemented the plan were obliterated by the following Board of County Commissioners.
• Introduced Single Stream Recycling to all Single Family Residential Households (though I unsuccessfully advocated and supported finding a way to do this with our local, private haulers, rather than a single, large out-of-state company).
• Development of an award-winning Composting Operation (currently for yard waste, not food waste).
• Landfill Gas to Energy Project completed (which captures most of the methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – produced in the landfill and generate electricity and revenue).
• For all four years as a county commissioner, I very actively opposed the proposed 1,500 tons per day, regional “Waste-to-Energy” incinerator. This extraordinarily expensive, economically-risky and environmentally-irresponsible project was approved in spite of my objections and without my support. In addition, I continued to actively oppose the project after my term as a commissioner, and was very pleased, another four years later, when the project was finally rejected (largely because Carroll County — our 40% partner — pulled out of the project, leaving the last Board of County Commissioners with no practical choice but to reverse course).
Since serving as a county commissioner, I have spent the last 7 years as the Director of Envision Frederick County.
Envision Frederick County is a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded on the principle that informed public discourse and active engagement of individuals and groups in our civic life are essential to our mutual well-being and prosperity.
Founded by committed community advocates with a record of service to our community, Envision Frederick County engages the community in discussion, education, and action within five focus areas.
Here is a link to the Envision Frederick County website: https://envisionfrederickcounty.org
I won’t take the time and space here to enumerate all the work we have done through Envision Frederick County, though much of it can be read about on our website, and I’m happy to discuss it further in our interview, but I will highlight these three items:
• As the director of Envision, I was co-organizer and co-founder (with Kimberly Brandt of 1000 Friends of Maryland) of the Smarter Growth Alliance of Frederick County, which has proven a great success, connecting and regularly bringing together many local and statewide organizations to work collectively…and with more resources and impact…on a range of significant environmental and land use issues.
• I was appointed by County Executive Jan Gardner to the Frederick County Solid Waste Steering Committee, also known as “What’s Next.” We met frequently for roughly two years as part of a thorough process to identify the next steps the county can and should take in improving waste diversion, recycling and composting. You can read as much as you like about it here: https://frederickcountymd.gov/6489/Solid-Waste—Whats-Next
• I was also appointed by County Executive Jan Gardner to the Energy and Environment working group as part of the Livable Frederick Master Plan process. You can read as much as you like about it here: https://www.livablefrederick.org/
I know that is a lot to read, but there is a lot more that could be included, and, again, I’m happy to expand on or discuss any of it, as you like.
Please list your specific ideas on how to make Frederick County a leader in the state with regard to climate change initiatives and adaptation.
What can Frederick County do to address the developing “climate emergency?”
I’ll combine those two questions into one response.
There are two major and different, even if related and overlapping, ways for us to think about public policy and climate change at the local level.
1) Mitigation: What can we do to reduce our contribution to the problem (and minimize the damage), and…
2) Adaption or resilience: What we can do to be prepared for the challenges we will face and adapt to the nature and pace of the changes that will occur.
Of course, as mentioned, there is significant overlap, and more than a few things that we can do are productive in terms of reducing our contribution to the problem AND help prepare our community for the future, both in terms of the effects of climate change and with regard to positioning the county to thrive and prosper in a world changing in other ways, as well.
Reducing our consumption of fossil fuels (and fossil-fuel derived energy sent here), through efficiency and conservation, and by increasing our distributed production of clean and renewable energy, reduces our contribution to climate change, and reduces local/regional air pollution, AND means we aren’t falling behind the steepening curve of communities developing less volatile and vulnerable, more flexible and lower cost, cleaner and renewable energy.
Rigorously applying Smart Growth principles to our land use, planning and development can significantly reduce our contribution to climate change, and provide a broad range of real short and long term benefits to our quality of life, attractiveness and competitiveness, and our environment.
Included in or compatible with such Smart Growth principles are a range of transportation-related considerations that do the same thing — reduce greenhouse gasses and enable the county to avoid being at the trailing edge when it comes to electric vehicle infrastructure, efficient and expanded public transit, walkability, lower cost public infrastructure and public services, while also offering many local environmental benefits.
Supporting and accelerating the implementation of regenerative agricultural practices will substantially reduce our contribution to climate change, and improve local and regional water quality, and reduce stormwater run-off and stormwater management costs, and better position the county to compete in the changing agricultural markets, more fully taking advantage of our proximity to two major metropolitan areas.
And the list goes on. I could add similar comments about other categories, but the point is clear.
Obviously, as previously noted, anything that happens, depends substantially on who is elected county executive and whether or not there are at least four council members who believe climate change demands that we both reduce our contribution and prepare for coming changes, and are open to examining the ways we can do either or both through politically practical and economically sound steps.
But, also as noted, there are many things we can do that will make progress on one or both of those fronts while ALSO being smart moves for any community that sees the benefits of being more efficient, more innovative, more attractive and more competitive.
There is a very long list of individual steps we can explore and take on these and other areas, many or most of which are already or will be place and tested in other places we can learn from. For instance, while we will continue to discuss and debate how best to balance large solar arrays with preserving our agricultural landscape and economy, there is a lot we can do to encourage and incentivize the development of solar on existing rooftops, and over large expanses of parking lots, and so on.
Without listing dozens or hundreds of other examples, most of this sort of progress will depend on having elected officials who are providing solid leadership in this area, and who have a genuine commitment to exploring the expanding options that exist, or will.
Name specific ways that the county can most quickly and equitably convert to 100% renewable energy, becoming coal-free as a first step.
What specific ideas do you have for bringing clean energy jobs to Frederick County?
Again, responding to these together.
Almost all of the most meaningful and substantial things that communities can to do to convert to renewable energy are going to be based on economics and incentives. And that is a good thing…now…as things are changing much faster than many people realize, and cleaner and renewable energy is rapidly on the way (and already there in some regards) to being the lowest cost, most flexible and most sustainable choices for people, whether they care about climate change or air quality or the environment in general, or not.
And, not to belabor the point too much, but we are not at the leading or cutting edge here. That means, again, that examples of what works and what doesn’t are already or will be out there for us to learn from, as long as we are willing to and diligent about examining what is happening elsewhere, including communities similar to ours.
Frederick County is not an island. We are connected to and affected by state policy and federal policy, our regional and national economy, and our increasingly global economy. If we are smart, we will take full advantage or our assets and opportunities. Among other things, that means recognizing the value of being…and being recognized as…a community ready for an increasingly coal and fossil fuel-free future.
We have to work with our municipalities, and businesses, and academic institutions and citizens to mobilize local assets and resources to move together, as much as possible. No easy thing, but either not possible or, at the very least, so slow and to fall off the learning curve as other communities benefit, without leadership willing and able to act as strong and credible advocates.
This response can’t be about simply listing all the things that other communities are doing, as if that’s all it takes. And it is hard to anticipate which items can happen first or most, here. The real answer to the question about how to move “most quickly and equitably” is to have leaders who are genuinely motivated and fully committed to moving quickly and in an equitable manner that benefits the broader community.
What are your ideas to reduce solid waste generated and handled within the county? What pilot programs, including composting, should be put in place from the Solid Waste Management Study?
As noted above, I was on the Solid Waste (What’s Next) Steering Committee. I support the findings about the right and best ways to take the next steps in increasing waste diversion (with a major emphasis on composting) and will work to have them implemented. Some things require pilot projects, and some don’t. All require significant public buy in, and need to have effective advocates.
We’ve done many things well, even if slower or later than we might have, but still have a ways to go to meet state goals and mandates. The recommendations of the steering committee can take us a few big steps in the right direction, but they were not intended to get us all the way, and, as some committee members have frequently pointed out, there is no need for all that to be implemented and firmly established before examining other opportunities and moving forward on them.
We can explore various volume-based pricing models and other incentives. We can substantially increase public outreach and education efforts. We can look at certain material bans, especially with the continuing development of low cost alternatives. Etc. Again, we aren’t re-inventing the wheel here. We don’t have be — and are not — on the so-called “bleeding edge” on this. That means there is an abundance of real world experience in other places to serve as tested models for us as we continue to make progress toward what are very ambitious state goals and mandates for waste reduction.
Like so many other big issues and challenges, the answer is not — and virtually never is — going to be found with a silver bullet. There is no single solution (like our misguided approach to build a massive waste incinerator), but rather it will take a combination of diverse public policies, private practices, effective incentives, technologies and more.
How would you reduce or eliminate litter such as styrofoam and plastic beverage containers (which make up about half of trash collected along waterways during community clean-ups, and only about a fourth of which are recycled)?
I mentioned the option of certain product or material bans above. Example are found in a growing number of communities, including large ones in our region, that have banned or taken other serious steps to dramatically reduce styrofoam for many uses. Affordable, competitive alternatives are available. Separately, continuing to make progress with recycling, where there is still a lot of room for improvement in the number of households and businesses that participate, could go a long way toward reducing the plastics that end up in our waterways and elsewhere.
Public education and creative incentives have to be part of that. We aren’t going to ban plastics, so we need to get them into our recycling and/or, when necessary, our waste stream, to keep them out of are actual streams…and rivers.
How can Frederick County reduce or eliminate toxic emissions from the landfill or the nearby Dickerson incinerator?
I don’t think there is much that Frederick County can do directly in this regard. We can hope and expect that as Montgomery County also has to reach certain state waste diversion mandates, and continues to look at certain product/material bans (and they have been) that less of certain materials end up at Dickerson.
We can also support efforts at the state level to change the status of municipal waste incinerators as renewable energy. That was always a purely political, not scientific designation.
Dickerson is slowly approaching the end of it’s practical life span, without major investments. A few proper state changes based on science instead of politics could go a long toward reducing the incentives to, and increasing the risks of making such new investments.
We shouldn’t be expanding, or rehabilitating old incinerators or building any new ones in Maryland. Frederick County dodged a very risky bullet, and we need to make sure we never move in that direction again, but at the state level, and in some other counties, there is still progress to be made.
As for the Reichs Ford Road Sanitary Landfill here is Frederick County, while I don’t doubt there is always room for improvements, I think the county has done a pretty good job “reducing or eliminating toxic emissions” to air and water. The BOCC I was on initiated the methane gas recovery facility there, and that was an important step to reducing the landfills contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, the Reichs Ford Road Sanitary Landfill is close to full, and no significant expansions are likely or even possible. We are currently sending most of our non-recycled or composted waste out of the area, and only placing a small percentage in the landfill, to extend its life. But, already now, to a point, and entirely, before long, the question will be about the sort of commitment we make to long term monitoring and prevention of gases and liquids escaping the site, and getting into our air and water.
We ought to take that responsibility seriously, and be fully committed to that, no matter what. But I also think continuing to utilize the site in other ways, as we do now with the transfer station, the composting operation, and some of the recycling programs, etc., means remaining fully invested in the overall property and all related concerns, and that’s a good thing.
What can Frederick County do to lessen agricultural runoff into our rivers and tributaries? Include ideas for the make-up and conduct of the Monocacy River Board as well as ideas on ways to bridge the gap between landowners and conservationists on the river plan.
This is another example of a problem that won’t be solved by any one things we can do, but rather by a combination of many separate and related policies and practices.
But some things can be done more easily or sooner, and offer a bigger bang for the buck, while being more politically practical. For instance, finding ways to commit more resources to programs that establish a fenced buffer along smaller streams flowing through pastures. Participation by landowners would be voluntary, but many would be more than willing if they didn’t have to pay for it, and the impact could be dramatic.
Seeing the voluntary expansion of certain farming practices, many of which also happen to be well suited for changes and opportunities ahead in agriculture in areas like ours, such as regenerative agriculture, could also have an outsized effect.
The recent controversy over the Monocacy Scenic River Advisory Board and the update to the plan is a complicated matter. But I have no doubt there was room for improvement in the nature of the board and the process, even though I also and fully appreciate that there has been a lot of misinformation and opportunistic fear-mongering.
We need to learn from the experience, and, moving forward, I think it would be good to examine the composition of the board, and the range of stakeholders and other interests that are and are not adequately represented. I also think we should look at the possibility of splitting off from Carroll County, if we can (I need to review the state mandate that established the advisory board in the first place).
Putting all the controversy about buffers and property rights and more aside for the moment, there is no doubt that many of the recommendations of the draft plan are good, insofar as they help prioritize and direct resources to property owners along the river that choose to participate.
But, ultimately, the problems that affect the Monocacy River come from throughout the watershed, not from the relatively tiny portion of the watershed that is in the immediate corridor. And we have to work in the issue from that perspective, including developed areas.
Along those lines, I have long advocated that as the City of Frederick annexes land for growth that it include a significant buffer along the miles of river that flow through the city. There was no excuse, in my opinion, as an example, for the Thatcher property to be planned for the sort of development that came in that annexation agreement (and which, thank goodness, has not happened yet, and may not, depending).
How can the problem of nitrogen entering our groundwater via septic systems be addressed?
Well…the best things we can do with regard to impacts from septic systems are ensuring that existing systems are properly monitored and maintained, requiring new systems to reflect best management practices and/or best technology (affordably) available, minimizing sprawling developments on well and septic, and, generally, incorporating the principles of Smart Growth in our land use and development planning.
Not for expanding on now, but there are other problems affecting or threatening ground water supplies in the county. On that note, however, I was proud of our BOCC when we identified key and vulnerable groundwater recharge areas in the county, and specifically eliminated certain previously allowable land uses on Agriculture zoned land in those areas.
How can the terms of the County Executive’s Forest Resource Ordinance bill (#17-17), or Council President Otis’ Alterations to the FRO bill (#17-20) be amended or expanded to protect and increase the Frederick County forests?
The simplest answer is that either restoring the Forest Resource Ordinance to it’s stronger form, or adopting Bill 17-17 as drafted (which is approximately the same thing) would be the best short term step.
Beyond that, while the FRO can certainly be modified or improved in other ways, we need to look to a combination of other things to protect our current forest, and even expand the amount of forest cover in the county.
The bottom line is that the county, as it grows (and it will grow) either has a solid commitment to no-net forest loss, and/or to the restoration and expansion of overall forest land in the county, or it doesn’t. Right now, it doesn’t.
As part of that, we have to recognize the difference between a healthy, mature, biologically-rich forest and the young, impoverished “forests” that comprise a great deal of our forest cover in the county. We need to approach them differently, while recognizing that the long term future has to include the development of many of those impoverished and/or younger forests into more mature and complex systems.
Our healthy forests are threatened by fragmentation, air pollution, invasive species, climate change, etc. Protecting such forests can not just be about leaving them alone in the face of those assaults.
But, again, while there are many individual elements we could discuss, the bottom line is appreciating the values, the threats, and the options available, AND having a genuine commitment to doing the very best we can.
We aren’t doing that now.
Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases
What specific ideas do you have to improve air quality in Frederick County? Include suggestions for reducing emissions from transportation within the county, as well as your ideas for improving mass transit.
One of the biggest improvements to our local air quality is going to come from the gradual (but accelerating) closure/replacements of coal burning power plants upwind of us.
Another is going to come from the rapid transition to electric vehicles.
Those changes will be dramatic, and will far surpass the effect of other things we can do. But that is not to say we can or should not do other things.
One of the other things that can and will have a significant effect on both air quality and the availability of public transit is Smart Growth.
All transit, including public transit, is subsidized in a variety of ways, some very significantly. We are going to see major changes in transportation in our region and everywhere, and we have to be purposefully mindful of how these changes effect all our residents and businesses, across all demographic and income categories, and across our own challenging geography (that is a reference, in part, to the particular challenges of adequate transportation among our low-income rural population).
Adhering to Smart Growth principles is critical to providing more or more adequate and reliable public transit options, since low density sprawl is almost impossible to serve adequately. This is an important matter in many respects, of course, from having more walkable and mixed use communities, in and around existing or more efficient new infrastructure, preserving our agriculture economy and natural areas, and even in terms of our ability to support and provide a more diverse range of housing options…including affordable housing.
As with other things, you can’t just pull transportation out as a separate issue. That is the path to thinking all we need to do is widen old roads and build news ones, which is a demand we are already unable to meet, and will only get worse if we don’t make other changes.
Given Frederick County’s rich history of agriculture and citizens’ desire to continue this, what ideas do you have to help our farmers thrive and operate more sustainably in the future?
How can existing agricultural operations be moved towards more organic practices in order to increase carbon sequestration?
First of all, it is important to appreciate that, as the county grows, we will not have or preserve a sustainable agricultural economy by accident. The pressures from growth and the potential development value of the land make debilitating (to agriculture) fragmentation inevitable without a conscious and committed effort to actively preserve farmland and support farming in our community.
We’ve done some things well, and some things not so well, or not well enough, given the pressures, but we still have the opportunity to get this mostly right.
Continuing to support the range of diverse agricultural preservation programs is important. But preserving farmland as farmland is not enough.
The agriculture economy is changing, as markets and preference change, as our food economy becomes more global, as new technologies are developed, and so on. I could discuss some of the key changes happening, but the more important point is that we have to appreciate the changes are happening, and still coming, and act to anticipate those changes, utilize our genuine assets as effectively as possible (including our proximity to two major metropolitan areas), and find smart ways to support famers and farming as things change.
One of the many ways we can explore to do that better is to develop a new and cutting edge agricultural incubator (perhaps through diverse public-private partnerships) that is focused on changing agricultural challenges and the specific opportunities we have here, including smaller farms, regenerative agriculture, etc.
I think public and private efforts in county have had a positive effect, to a point, on supporting local agriculture and products, but we can do more, from public awareness to public purchasing priorities to making sure that our zoning and land use regulations are not so outdated that they prevent us from fully or quickly adapting to some of the changes in agriculture.
In a November poll of likely general election voters, education and schools were the highest priority issue. What ideas do you have for educating Frederick County youth to be better prepared for mitigating and adapting to our warming climate?
That is a very complicated issue to wrap up with here!
I certainly understand and fully appreciate why education and schools would be seen be many as the highest priority. It is one of the very most important things for us to do well as a community, for many reasons.
And the question about how to better integrate environmental education, including climate change, into the curriculum. Maryland has attempted to do that, to a point, and to it’s credit. But a lot of factors from tradition to the pressures of what gets tested and valued have made it hard to make significant improvement here.
But there are things we can do, beyond what is part of the curriculum. I think the recent effort (in which I have been involved) to get composting practices in place in schools is a good example. It takes time and effort, but doesn’t have to be costly, and, in fact, done effectively, can and will reduce costs. But the effort has to include administrators and teachers and students (and sometimes parents), and it takes a combination of information-sharing efforts and sources, etc. Without getting into the weeds to much about what it takes, the point is that the benefits include a much broader awareness of the connection between their individual and collective practices, in every day life, and the positive or negative effects on the environment.
I’d love to see every school composting, with high levels of participation, and with many of them doing it all on-site, and utilizing the end product on school gardens and other landscaping, etc. Hard to overestimate the impact and values of literally tens of thousands of kids making this change, thinking of it as normal, understanding some of the connections and values, taking what they learn into their homes, and so on.
Similarly, I think the same thing can happen with regard to energy, from conservation practices to clean energy production on school grounds, etc., and, again, incorporating these basic things into the day to day practices of the school community, whether it is sufficiently part of the actual classroom curriculum or not.
There are administrators and teachers and students and parents who are motivated enough. We need sufficient leadership to recognize and support and connect them. It is happening, in various ways, but it can happen better and sooner.
The Sierra Club Catoctin Group encompasses Carroll, Frederick and Washington Counties in Maryland.
The Sierra Club (https://sierraclub.org) is a national environmental advocacy organization with more than 60 chapters, including at least one for every state in the US. The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club focuses on protecting the state’s natural and wildlife resources, monitoring legislation, sponsoring outings, and educating the public about pressing environmental issues (see our history). The Chapter is also responsible for the Groups that operate on the local level throughout the state.