Warming up to climate change action

A local coalition focused on studying climate change and sustainability options is growing with a little help from its friends.

Cheryn Weiser, a Western Washington University professor experienced in forming coalitions, recently sat down in Coupeville with a group of county and city representatives to discuss nuances of the new group.

Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard set up the meeting to discuss local government’s role in the coalition and explore the possibility of breaking it down further with the Council of Governments, made up of elected leaders from Island County’s municipalities and port districts.

Island County Commissioners Phil Bakke and John Dean, as well as Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik and Development Services Director Steve Powers, were all amenable to studying the issue further.

Formed by Weiser and Coupeville environmentalist Gary Piazzon, the Island County Climate Change Coalition has expanded since its humble beginnings and is now seeking a defined scope, lest it gets pulled in too many directions.

“We’re still kind of making our way as to what we might be,” Weiser said. “A good coalition has to represent the interests of a wide array of folks. The goal is not to become a reactionary, advocacy group.”

The coalition represents a cross section of county interests, including people from various jurisdictions and interested community members. A conversation with Piazzon and her “doing nature” prompted Weiser to lend her coalition expertise to the cause free of charge.

The coalition should serve as a clearinghouse for climate change education and action, she said. And to avoid redundant research, the group stresses collaboration and the use of sub-groups.

“We want this to deal with all of Island County,” Weiser said. “This is non-competitive. I really think there is change needed. Different people have different priorities.”

Coupeville recently adopted its Climate Protection Plan and Conard suggested that county municipalities issue “green challenges” to help reduce harmful fossil fuel emissions and lessen energy consumption. With a goal of lightening each person’s carbon footprint, green challenges are voluntary programs that community members can undertake with little effort or cost to improve the environment, help reverse global warming and help keep air, water and vegetation healthy.

“This could be something to pursue,” Conard said, emphasizing the potential for progress with city and county involvement. “We’ve never had a four-way partnership before.”

Commissioner John Dean said jurisdictions like Bellingham, Mercer Island and Tacoma have passed resolutions to promote sustainable communities. If a consensus was achieved in Island County, he said a similar resolution could be effective.

“Sustainability is such a common thread for islands,” Dean said. “If we could agree on a resolution, it could be county-wide. A lot of the stuff, like recycling and maintaining the forests, we’re already doing. A resolution simply says that this is a value to us.”

From transitioning to hybrid vehicles to revising its subdivision code, Powers said the city of Oak Harbor has also begun taking environmental measures.

The group agreed that a resolution would be a valuable asset. And Conard said Council of Governments meetings would be a logical place to begin the dialogue and build solidarity.

Dean agreed that COG was a logical venue for the dialogue. He recommended studying resolutions passed by other entities and scrutinizing different concepts to “get a menu gleaned” to bring to the group.

Slowik said the coalition should avoid being hampered by small thinking but also consider loftier projects like wind or tidal power.

“Think small details and small items, but look at the big picture,” the Oak Harbor mayor said.

An unprecedented cohesion among the different jurisdictions will be a watershed for the county.

“We’ve never done anything as a group,” Conard said.

“That’s a big step by itself,” Dean agreed.

Commissioner Phil Bakke said cohesiveness should be a major goal of the resolution.

“We need to adopt proactive standards,” he said, advocating a non-regulatory resolution. “When it comes to sustainability, people shouldn’t be forced.”

Powers added that with a unified vision that is not regulatory, specific city codes would not be necessary.

“If we’re not talking about rules and regulations, we wouldn’t have to shove it into code,” he said.

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