Green Umbrella in the News

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  • September 12, 2023 10:32 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: Cincinnati Public Schools

    Education Blossoms at Bond Hill Academy's Outdoor Classroom Debut

    If you imagine a farmer in overalls using hoes and tractors to tend to their crops, think again! Groups of students donned lab coats and rulers to tend to their new gardens for the grand opening of Bond Hill Academy's outdoor classroom Friday, September 8.

    "There's a lot more to it than just learning how to dig in the soil,” said Bond Hill STEM teacher, Leslie Lyles. “I was trying to make sure they realized the mathematics involved in growing and the importance of botany. Being able to come out to analyze and observe the growth of these plants in a mathematical and scientific way is an amazing resource for our students to have."

    CPS and Green Umbrella unveiled eight garden beds where students got their hands dirty planting spinach, carrots and strawberries. The innovative project, spearheaded by Green Umbrella's CPS Outside program and the Cincinnati Green Schoolyards Action Network, transformed a small area next to the school's basketball court into an innovative learning environment complete with whiteboards, sitting spaces and fruits and vegetables.

    The green oasis will serve as a dynamic hub for garden-based teaching and learning, living up to the school's new motto of “plant what you can in the space that you have.”

    Green Umbrella’s Green Schoolyards program manager, Cynthia Walters, explained how safe and accessible green spaces in school communities like Bond Hill are the future of learning for students, “We are looking at curriculum integration and support for teachers in not only getting students outside but having educators feel comfortable with teaching outdoors as well.” Walters continued, “We're working on starting green career pathways early on rather than at the high school level. The students and teachers are already engaged. They've already got their hands in the soil. They’re already planting. They are ahead of the game because of this strong school team.”

    Walters went on the explain that the gardens on display are not only an educational opportunity for the students, but an open invitation for collaboration in the community. Students are able to take the crops they harvest home along with the knowledge they learned for cultivating the vegetation.

    Ceriana Portis, a grade 6 student at Bond Hill, said she’ll be taking what she learns here back home to her family's extensive garden. “Our garden at home is in its first year of tending, so I can take the plants we get, home and tell them what I learned and how to do it for next year,” said Portis. “I'm excited about it happening because I'm excited to tell everybody what we're doing and probably inspire more people to be able to grow.”

    Bond Hill Academy's outdoor classroom will continue to grow throughout the school year with students in all grades having part in tending to the garden.

  • September 06, 2023 10:12 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: The Reader

    Climate Action… Now? After Years of Neglect, Omaha Officials Promise This Time Will Be Different

    This story is part of The Reader’s Climate Beacon Newsroom initiative with Solutions Journalism Network.

    The sun ascended into a vacant late-summer sky as the concrete baked below. Later that day, Omaha’s heat index would reach 109 degrees. But even at 8 a.m., it was too hot for Mike McMeekin, who retreated into an air-conditioned coffee shop.

    McMeekin, an engineer and longtime political player in Omaha, was, in a way, there to talk about the weather — specifically storms, droughts, snow, floods and heat waves, which are getting worse in Nebraska as a result of human-influenced climate change. State research suggests Nebraska’s average temperatures could climb up to 9 degrees by the end of the century, generating more extreme weather, scorching days and threatening public health. Omaha hopes to help curb, or at least withstand, these changes with the help of its Climate Action and Resilience Plan slated to unveil November 2024.

    Currently, the plan, which will identify strategies to reduce Omaha’s vulnerabilities — and contributions to — climate change, is being researched. A contractor is tallying Omaha’s greenhouse gas emissions while the city looks to hire a full-time staff member to oversee the plan. A website to track progress will soon be available along with an online survey for people to share ideas. In-person forums will start by the end of the year.

    For some, this movement represents an optimistic shift for Omaha. Others are getting déjà vu.

    “I feel like we already have [a plan],” McMeekin said.

    In 2010, Omaha’s City Council approved its Master Plan’s Environment Element — a 152-page document developed by volunteers and partially steered by McMeekin. It included hundreds of proposed strategies and more than 30 goals, ranging from reducing greenhouse gasses and increasing renewable energy resources to updating building codes and creating denser development.

    Years later, the city has failed to meet most of its goals, costing the metro at least $1.39 billion in energy savings and a 23% reduction in energy consumption, according to projected figures in a 2011 city report.

    City officials argue the 2010 plan proposed too much without setting priorities or suggesting how Omaha would secure the funding or manpower needed to realize its vision. They also say the city’s Master Plan is not policy. Rather, it’s a visionary document to steer decisions.

    Others say it comes down to politics. The plan was conceived, and began implementation, under Mayor Jim Suttle, a Democrat. It fell apart under Mayor Jean Stothert, a Republican, who took office in 2013 and has instead prioritized public safety and trimming budgets. Indeed, a decade’s worth of city emails obtained by The Reader shows officials in city government rarely discussed climate change or the Environment Element.

    Now, many Omahans feel like the city is back to square one.

    “If you look at the things that we decided about, it’s what we’re still talking about today,” said David Corbin, a longtime environmentalist and local Sierra Club leader in Omaha. “Energy efficiency, climate change, greenhouse gasses. We made recommendations and they still didn’t happen.”

    Omaha is now one of the few large American cities without a climate plan, being outpaced by others such as Minneapolis, Des Moines and Chicago. Lincoln, which has a Democrat-controlled city council and mayor, passed its plan in March 2021. Nebraska’s Legislature, officially nonpartisan but ultimately majority-Republican, rejected 2020 calls to develop a plan for the state.

    Some cities, such as Cincinnati, can offer insight into how to make a plan not only sound good but also work — something that eludes most major cities, which aren’t meeting their climate goals, according to research from the Brookings Institution.

    “We don’t want a plan on a shelf,” said Marco Floreani, a deputy chief of staff for the mayor who is leading her climate plan effort. “We really want a plan that can be implemented.”

    But the initiative has faced setbacks and delays. The mayor first called on city, business and nonprofit leaders to lead the plan in February 2021. It became public in November, but it wouldn’t be until August 2023 that the city officially hired a contractor.

    “The track record for the city is abysmal,” said David Holtzclaw, an environmental engineer whose company, Transduction Technologies, consults on energy efficiency. “I can’t point to a single success or a single reason to have hope. It’s a plan that will sit on a shelf, much like the [Environment Element] … What has come of that? Nothing.”

    As for McMeekin, he isn’t bitter. He just doesn’t want to see the city fall further behind.

    “I just feel strongly like, ‘Hey, if we had implemented [the Environment Element], we would essentially have had a climate action plan,” McMeekin said. “We’d be years ahead on things that we’re kind of starting over on now.”

    ‘The Forgotten Plan’

    When it comes to environmentalism in Omaha, Corbin has learned to measure success in small steps. The Earth Day crowds listening to him perform Neil Young songs have gotten bigger. More people believe in climate change — 68% of people in the Omaha metro area believe global warming is happening and 55% say local officials need to do something about it, according to 2021 Yale research.

    The Environment Element wasn’t a small step.

    “It was very ambitious,” said Corbin, a retired public health educator who served on the plan’s community health committee. “I think people really felt that it could make a difference. And that we weren’t wasting our time — that something would come of it.”

    The plan started in November 2008, part of a larger push by city, nonprofit and business leaders to reinvent Omaha into a lively metro rather than the suburban sprawl it had become by the mid-2000s. It defined the city’s natural environment, construction patterns, natural resources and urban design. It took two years to develop.

    More than a decade later, McMeekin refers to it as the “forgotten plan.”

    One reason is that the plan lacked direction among its 681 recommended actions, said Derek Miller, head of long-range and mobility planning for the city and whose office oversees the Environment Element.

    “It’s not actionable,” said Miller, who served on the plan’s urban form and transportation committee. “It doesn’t say, ‘If you do this every year for the next 10 years, then you can reach your goals.’”

    Some point to the 2013 election of Stothert, who through a spokesperson referred all questions about climate work to Floreani, as a turning point.

    From 2009 to 2013, the city had an Office of Sustainable Development, a four-person team funded by about $14 million in federal grants. It carried out the Environment Element through projects such as updating 1,360 homes and 43 commercial buildings to be more energy efficient, saving their owners a combined nearly $800,000 in energy costs. Stothert cut the office after its grant expired. Since 2017, the city has updated about 127 homes through a similar program, according to Wyatt Tuell, a city planner who oversees the program.

    Some of the work started by the sustainability office has continued, said former staff member Eric Williams who is now chair of the Omaha Public Power District Board of Directors.

    In 2011, the Office of Sustainable Development changed most of the city’s traffic signals to LED bulbs. Williams said streetlights were to be the next step before the office disbanded. In 2018, OPPD picked up the work. From 2020 to 2023, it changed thousands of streetlights to LED bulbs. That coincided with a $2.5 million reduction in the city’s annual electricity bill.

    Remembering these missed opportunities makes it hard for Williams to take the city seriously when it promises this time will be different.

    “I’m sure you’ll find a bunch of people who have grown weary of completing a plan that highlights benefits for the community, that then does not translate into any specific action,” Williams said.

    City emails obtained by The Reader seem to reflect a lack of commitment. From 2013 until the city pursued a new climate plan in 2021, officials in the mayor’s office and members of the Omaha City Council rarely discussed climate change. More often, they would respond to (or ignore) constituents concerned about city decisions, such as a mayoral veto of a plastic bag ban in 2019 or passing a waste collection contract that scaled back composting the same year. The city now composts about a sixth of what it did in 2005, though recycling is up about 35%, according to city estimates.

    Dozens of Omahans emailed the mayor in 2017 when President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, an international commitment reached two years earlier to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As more than 400 U.S. mayors reaffirmed their support for climate action, Stothert sent constituents an email cataloging the city’s recent environmental work. She did not mention climate change or the reaction from other mayors.

    Still, the city has made strides.

    It’s spending $2 billion to update its sewers to discharge cleaner water into the Missouri River — part of a federal mandate. It will also soon be able to sell natural gas harnessed from methane captured at its primary wastewater treatment plant. Waste collection trucks contracted by the city run on natural gas, and there are 70 free electric vehicle charging stations in the city, according to ChargeHub.

    In 2020 the regional transit authority introduced its first rapid-transit bus line. The city is working on a $306 million streetcar, projected to open in 2026, which the city hopes will generate $3 billion in investment in its urban core, attract a younger workforce and take cars off the road as people utilize multi-model transit.

    The city also adopted policies such as Complete Streets, which prioritizes multi-modal transit, and Vision Zero, which aims to make streets safer. And while the city didn’t meet many of its 2010 goals, it has made progress. With a formal plan, it can go even further, Miller said.

    “Like most communities, we’re more reactive than proactive. And that’s always been an issue of mine. So we need to become more proactive with [climate change],” Miller said. So I’m excited for this climate action plan. And I think using the experience that we went through with the Environment Element, we can figure out what went well, what didn’t go well and what we need to do differently.”

    Not Rocket Science

    Pete Festersen, a longtime Omaha City Council member and current president, represents midtown Omaha, including his own neighborhood in Dundee, where many bike, install solar panels and fill gardens with flowers and produce. He served on the Environment Element’s core committee in the late 2000’s — and like many others has watched climate action sputter here.

    Chief among his complaints is the city has no employee whose sole focus is climate action. That should change soon as the city announced in late August it would hire a full-time staff member to oversee the plan.

    “That’s best practice everywhere this has been done,” Festersen said, “and I think that’s part of the challenge we’re experiencing right now with some of these delays and clunky timelines.”

    After Stothert launched the city’s climate plan in February 2021, the plan spent more than a year lingering inside Metro Smart Cities, a combination of civic, business and nonprofit leaders, tasked with leading the plan. In September 2022, Festersen tried to fold the plan into the city’s budget, a resolution that the mayor vetoed.

    In March 2023, Omaha selected Minnesota-based contractor paleBLUEdot to lead climate planning and local consulting firm HDR to lead community engagement. However, the $376,000 contract wouldn’t be signed until August due to a change in funding.

    Floreani said despite the delays the city is headed in the right direction.

    “Young people have said that this is an important issue and they want to be in a community that’s focused on adaption and being proactive,” Floreani said. “From a business perspective, too, companies are thinking about risk. They want to be in a community, or they want to grow in a community, that is serious about future risks. A lot of risk can be associated with climate change resiliency issues.”

    The agreement the city signed with paleBLUEdot, which has completed climate action plans in cities such as La Crosse, Wisconsin; Bloomington, Indiana; and Hartford, Vermont, calls for research into environmental policy, community engagement and an inventory of the city’s greenhouse gas production. The final plan was slated to take 18 months and arrive in June 2024. That has since been pushed back to November 2024, said Ted Redmond, co-founder of paleBLUEdot.

    Jesse Bell, a climate and health scientist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said this plan will be essential in answering many unknowns about Omaha’s climate vulnerabilities.

    “We will see changes in heat waves, flooding, droughts, severe storms,” he said. “What does that potentially mean for Omaha? Where are susceptible populations? What are those issues within infrastructure? There’s still work that needs to be done.”

    Some are digging deeper into those questions. UNMC research is examining urban heat islands: neighborhoods with fewer trees, green space and water which, in Omaha, can be nearly 10 degrees hotter than other areas. Children have higher rates of asthma in East Omaha, where more poor and communities of color live alongside industrial pollution, studies show. Temperature increases are also leading to longer allergy seasons as well as leading more virus-carrying ticks to Nebraska.

    But to go any further, Bell said comprehensive research and prioritized strategies are needed.

    That is the basic responsibility of a climate action plan, and so far Bell is optimistic the city will accomplish that. When the city was reviewing applications, Floreani called Bell and asked for his help.

    “The fact that they even reached out to me, I felt like they were taking it seriously,” Bell said. “It wasn’t just we’re going to do this to do it. And when I talked to [Floreani] he seemed really invested in it. I was impressed.”

    Redmond with paleBLUEdot isn’t worried that his firm will come up with an actionable plan. It’s sticking to it that’s challenging.

    “Climate action is not for the timid,” Redmond said. “This is not rocket science. We know the things that we need to do. But it is really hard to get it to happen.”

    Across the River

    There are a lot of similarities between Omaha and Cincinnati, Ohio.

    Both are Midwestern river towns. Omahans (affectionately or not) refer to Council Bluffs, Iowa — their neighbor across the Missouri River — as “Council-tucky.” Cincinnatians actually live across the Ohio River from Kentucky.

    Both cities’ early prosperity thrived on meatpacking industries. Both spent the late 20th century slumping into urban decay.

    In the 2000s both cities began rebuilding. And in the late 2000s both issued ambitious environmental plans. The only difference is Cincinnati stuck with theirs.

    “At the end of the day, I think it’s about people’s commitment to making it happen and being able to find alternative approaches,” said Oliver Kroner, sustainability director for the City of Cincinnati. “I think it’s easy to say ‘These are the five things you need to do.’ But at any given moment, you can’t make progress on those five things. So having a broader, scattershot approach is effective.”

    Since 1991, more than 600 local governments across the U.S. have passed climate action plans. But just passing a plan isn’t enough. A 2020 study from the Brookings Institution found two-thirds of the largest cities that made commitments to lower greenhouse gas emissions were lagging on their targets. A primary reason? The goals aren’t adopted into policy.

    Cincinnati hasn’t had that problem.

    Since passing its Green Cincinnati Plan in 2008, the city has reduced carbon emissions by 36.6% and aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The city has also contracted what’s being called the largest municipal solar farm in the nation — a site the size of 680 football fields with 310,000 solar panels — part of its plan to use 100% renewable energy for city operations by 2035.

    In 2023 the city updated its plan for the fourth time. Over six months, the city’s sustainability office gathered suggestions from 3,766 residents through in-person and virtual meetings as well as surveys, one of the most extensive engagement processes the city has ever done, according to the report. The city’s online climate dashboard now includes 130 recommended policies or commitments.

    For Kroner, time and consistency have been the keys to success. Because politicians are more aware of climate issues, it makes integrating recommendations into policy easier. And because the city’s built trusting relationships in the community, citywide buy-in comes naturally.

    “For a city whose driving for carbon neutrality like we are, that really means engaging community partners that are not municipal operators,” Kroner said. “We’re doing everything we can to eliminate our 3.5% of the carbon pie, but there’s much more focus on bringing partners into the fold and understanding where we can build relationships that can help us go further faster.”

    The need for leadership became clear when President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, Kroner said. Suddenly Cincinnati, which has primarily had Democratic mayors since the early 1970s, had to come up with its own answers.

    The energy required to power buildings accounts for 39% of global emissions, according to the International Energy Agency, although that number is typically higher in cities. To lower emissions, Cincinnati has built networks through its 2030 District — an initiative in 24 U.S. cities that calls on businesses to reduce energy consumption, water usage and transportation emissions to zero by 2040. Cincinnati’s partners include Fortune 500 companies such as Procter & Gamble and Kroger as well as museums, breweries and cafes. In total, they represent 28.2 million square feet of commercial space.

    Other cities are on similar tracks.

    Last year, Des Moines had the second-most buildings of any mid-sized city certified as Energy Star, a standard for extremely efficient buildings. Des Moines’ 49 buildings collectively saved $1.8 million in energy bills and averted 10,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to data from the federal government. By comparison, Omaha had nine buildings certified last year. Lincoln had 12, nine of which are Lincoln Public Schools buildings.

    Homes account for about 20% of the United States’ greenhouse gasses, according to the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That includes low-income homes where people typically live in less-efficient buildings and are overburdened by utility bills. While Omaha and Nebraska have programs to retrofit these homes at no cost to the homeowner, they’re outpaced by cities such as Minneapolis, which has upgraded close to 3,000 low-income homes as part of its Green Cost Share program.

    Holtzclaw has been hard at work pitching energy-efficiency upgrades to businesses around the country — especially since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, a federal bill that has created significant tax incentives for such work. Ironically, Nebraska is where he’s had the least luck, he said.

    “I will make the same pitch to somebody in Des Moines or Minneapolis and they’ll be like, ‘Where do I sign?’” Holtzclaw said. “Here, it’s the same pitch. They’re making the same amount of money, I do the same work. I follow up like three or four times and never hear back.”

    It’s not true to say Omahans don’t care about sustainability or climate change, according to 17-year-old climate activist Kiera Ginn.

    While the City of Omaha does not have a climate plan, other institutions in the city do. They include: the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, OPPD, Metropolitan Utilities District, Union Pacific, Kiewit and Werner Enterprises.

    But Ginn and others in the citywide group Students for Sustainability have questions. Is everyone working together? Is addressing climate change really a priority? Are we moving fast enough? And where are we heading?

    Earlier this year, they offered to help the city with its climate action plan. They had a meeting, but that was months ago. They haven’t heard much since.

    So, like many others, they’re hoping for the best. But growing up here, they’ve also learned to measure their expectations.

    “In a sense, it’s discouraging,” Ginn said, “but it’s also expected from Omaha.”

    Ready to Start

    McMeekin shares those mixed feelings. The city is making promises, but he’s heard those before.

    Earlier this year, the world’s top scientists released a hulking assessment on everything we know about climate change. The outlook has only gotten more grim.

    “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in March 2023. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

    Omaha may have missed its chance to launch into climate action in 2010. But it’s not too late, McMeekin said. And the city doesn’t need to solve the world’s climate problems. It doesn’t even need to fix all of its own right now.

    It just needs to find somewhere to start.

    contact the writer at

  • September 06, 2023 9:52 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: Cincinnati Enquirer

    Reds’ Food Rescue: What Happens to All the Hot Dogs That Fans Don’t Eat?

    Mark Lawrence learned about Last Mile from a TV feature and thought, “Hey, I’m retired. I’ve got a truck.”

    So early this year, the former utilities manager signed on as a Last Mile “hero” – one of 800-plus volunteers who pick up and drop off donated food.

    At the end of the Reds-Rockies homestand, Lawrence pulled his black pickup into Dock 3 under the Reds' stadium a little before lunchtime.

    Minutes later, he pulled away, his truck bed loaded with unsold but still edible leftovers from Delaware North, the stadium’s long-time concessions operator. No hot dogs and beer. But plenty of lettuce, mushrooms, peppers, celery and onions, along with bags of popped and packaged popcorn.

    And a few minutes after that, he left the load in an Avondale parking lot, where a crowd soon began filling their bags with the produce and popcorn, plus frozen ground beef, bagels and even bouquets of flowers from other donors.

    Shaunte Miller of Bond Hill was in the Avondale line, picking up food for herself and three elderly neighbors. They’d come for the fresh produce themselves, she said, if they weren’t using walkers or wheelchairs, Miller said.

    When she first delivered Last Mile bags, she said, “They couldn’t believe the food. It’s so different than a (food) pantry.”

    Avondale volunteer Jennifer Foster said she hears that all the time. “People are so shocked they can get the good quality food they can,” she said. “We load them up and make them happy.”

    Once happy, they sometimes reach out for other help – where to find housing or clothes, where to look for a job.

    Foster stations herself at the front of the food line to greet each person and answer the questions she can. “I’m the resource hub,” she said.

    5.7 million pounds of food diverted from landfills

    Julie Shifman and Tom Fernandez started rescuing food from restaurants, hotels, food stores and food distributors in November 2020, about a year after creating Last Mile Food Rescue.

    They’ve since collected about 5.7 million pounds of perishable food – keeping it out of landfills and getting it to people in need.

    TQL Stadium, home of FC Cincinnati, signed on early. The concessions team there has donated more than 20,000 pounds of food in three years. The University of Cincinnati just joined, with its concessions operator donating food from a dining hall in July and agreeing to turn over extras from Nippert Stadium this fall.

    Delaware North, which has been feeding Reds’ fans since 1936, has been donating since the beginning. Leftovers from Great American Ball Park, at 32,000 pounds, have provided about 24,000 meals.

    “For us, it’s a no-brainer,” said Ari Rubin, a Delaware North assistant manager, noting that six kitchens, 50-plus suites and 90-plus concession locations throughout the ballpark produce a lot of uneaten food.

    “We know the extras will be going to the community,” added Gary Davis, the concessionaire’s executive chef.

    Paycor Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, is not participating – yet. "We’d certainly love to have them join our other stadium partners," Last Mile Marketing Manager Beth Voorhees said. Representatives of Aramark, which handles concessions at Paycor Stadium, did not return a voicemail and two emails.

    Part of solicitation manager Hyden's job: Convincing stadiums “there’s a safe, reliable solution” to their food waste. “We can place all kinds of food.”

    Reds, FC enjoy Last Mile 'bump'

    On the day that “hero” driver Mark Lawrence rescued food from the Reds' stadium, he’d already picked up 25 trays of prepared food from Downtown's Duke Energy Convention Center and delivered them to Shelterhouse, a facility for homeless men in Queensgate.

    He was happy to grab two jobs off the Last Mile app and zip over from his nearby Covedale home for the runs. “I didn't know there was that big of a need,” he said.

    Hyden did not know much about food rescue, either, despite a 25-year career as a Cincinnati restaurant chef.

    When he stepped out of that business and found a new career with Last Mile last year, he quickly learned about local food insecurity.

    Thanks to his restaurant years, he can now easily identify food sources. One example: He knows restaurants with Thanksgiving and Christmas menus will have leftovers. His challenge is to find recipients ready for delivery.

    As longtime donors, TQL and Great American Ball Park concession operators don’t need any coaching on how Last Mile works. Now, their home teams, both enjoying winning seasons, are being rewarded for their loyalty, Hyden joked. “They all got the Last Mile bump.”

    How to join the food rescue movement

    Last Mile Food Rescue explains how to volunteer, donate food or request food donations on its "You Can Help" page.

    Hamilton County R3Source's "Wasted Food Stops With Us" site includes ideas on where to donate perishables.

    The Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council's site offers information about the local food ecosystem.

    The Green Umbrella Regional Sustainability Alliance site explains food waste and how to reduce it.

  • August 22, 2023 1:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: Brookings Institution

    Why Green Jobs Plans Matter and Where Us Cities Stand in Implementing Them

    The transition to a cleaner and more resilient economy will be one of the most significant economic and physical transformations in U.S. history. Trillions of dollars will be required to adopt clean electricity, retrofit homes and businesses, establish new manufacturing processes, and protect cities and towns from changing weather patterns. Now, with landmark federal laws—including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act—bringing significant public capital and tax credits to further incentivize private investment, the transition is poised to gain speed in the coming decade.

    The rise of a green economy has also brought a renewed focus on green jobs. To put all this public and private capital to use, the country needs a sizable workforce to construct new power plants and transmission lines, modernize older buildings, and plan and deliver more resilient communities. Ideally, the transition to a green economy should offer durable and growing career pathways while it cleans the air, protects American neighborhoods, and grows U.S. industries.

    However, there is reason for skepticism over whether there are enough workers ready to pursue all these projects. The workers who construct, operate, and maintain U.S. infrastructure are either in short supply, aging, or leaving their jobs rapidly. Transportation departments, water utilities, and other employers are struggling to retain talent, let alone find the millions of new workers needed in the skilled trades and other related positions in the coming years. Growing a clean economy will require more analysts, managers, and other white-collar professionals to oversee and assess humanmade and natural infrastructure systems. The concept of a green job is still far too amorphous, with little understanding of the knowledge and skills it will take to execute more climate-focused work.

    Preparing a climate-ready workforce requires an all-hands-on-deck approach among public and private leaders across the country—including federal policymakers, state community college systems, and individual employers—but these capacity-related gaps often come to ground in U.S. cities and regions. Past Brookings research has highlighted how cities are essential to driving climate action. Many cities continue to make bold climate pledges, including commitments to achieve net zero emissions and protect the most vulnerable. They also play an active role in workforce development, including by funding educational and related training programs. But without a coordinated, comprehensive plan to retrain and recruit workers in well-defined, green-related careers, city leaders will be unable to achieve their climate ambitions.

    This brief assesses 50 large cities’ climate action plans (CAPs), which ideally should encapsulate many of the elements essential to local infrastructure workforce development. Local leaders need to articulate their training and hiring priorities, the various sectors in need of talent, and the funding and timelines required to accelerate action. Of course, CAPs are not the only planning efforts addressing such needs—amid other programs launched by federal and state leaders, in addition to innovations in the private sector—but this brief shows that many local leaders are not in a position to harness new funding and that they have more workforce planning to do:

    Most of the relevant cities—47 of 50—mention green jobs in their CAPs, but they only tend to do so in passing. While some cities do not refer to green jobs at all in their plans, most cities only include a more general call for equity and greater net opportunities.

    Most of the cities—40 of 50—emphasize energy projects when discussing workforce needs, but considerably fewer cities emphasize workforce needs in terms of buildings, transportation, or other parts of the built environment. Only about half of the cities (24) emphasize workforce needs around building upgrades and retrofits, while even fewer (20) emphasize these needs around transportation improvements.

    Only 19 of the 50 cities include detailed information on collaboration with other institutional and organizational partners when discussing workforce development. Examples of these partners include community colleges, community-based organizations, and other groups essential to engaging new workers, training them, and providing supportive services.

    Only 11 of the 50 cities include information on funding—or additional programmatic support—for workforce development. Many cities do not spell out clear costs for needed training programs or propose specific funding and financing to support them.

    Only 9 of the 50 cities include specific dates, benchmarks, or timelines for workforce development. Most CAPs lack details on the duration of any green workforce development efforts or benchmarks to measure success.

    This research brief does not aim to precisely define green jobs, especially amid continued debates among policymakers and researchers on how to isolate, measure, or forecast such employment figures. Rather, this brief seeks to address the information deficits limiting local and regional planning about green jobs. It first examines the scope of the green jobs challenge by outlining the major skills and training needs, before considering some of the essential ingredients for ongoing local workforce development planning. Then, using detailed findings from our review of 50 municipal CAPs, we describe many of the successful practices that city leaders and other stakeholders can adopt to expand climate-focused talent development. America is poised to unleash generation-defining climate investment—and the American worker is poised to be a central part of these efforts.

    A full list of the 50 cities analyzed is available in an interactive map below and described more extensively in a downloadable methods appendix.

    Keep reading here.

  • August 22, 2023 1:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    U.S. EPA Announces $11 Million Grant Funding for Research on Energy Transitions in Underserved Communities

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced $11 million in grant funding to 11 institutions for research on the drivers and environmental impacts of energy transitions in underserved and Tribal communities. The research aims to address climate change and environmental justice issues, which are key priorities for the EPA.

    The shift away from fossil-based energy systems in energy and transportation is happening rapidly. These changes are important for mitigating climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, they also present both challenges and opportunities to improve environmental and public health, particularly for underserved communities.

    The research funded by these grants will focus on understanding the environmental impacts of shifting energy and transportation systems on underserved and Tribal communities. It will also explore the factors that drive decisions to adopt renewable energy sources, energy-efficient technologies, and new transportation options. The projects will engage with communities and Tribes, learning from their experiences and expertise to better meet their needs.

    The goal of this research is to build a scientific foundation for the development of effective policies and programs that support a sustainable transition to renewable and low-carbon energy systems. By engaging with communities and understanding their perspectives, the research aims to ensure that the transition is just and equitable.

    The grant recipients include institutions such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Maine, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Research Triangle Institute, Green Umbrella, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Michigan Technological University, The Ohio State University, University of California Los Angeles, Arizona State University, and Portland State University.

    These institutions will be working on a range of projects, from studying the environmental benefits of shifting to electric energy sources in households to assessing the air quality and health implications of transitioning to alternative transportation and electricity generation. The research will provide valuable insights into the impacts of energy transitions on underserved communities and inform future decision-making.

    More information about the funded grant recipients and EPA research grants can be found on the EPA website.

  • August 22, 2023 1:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: Northern Kentucky Tribune

    Interact for Health Awards Over $3.7 Million to Nonprofits Working to Improve Health Outcomes

    Interact for Health has awarded over $3.7M in grant funding to non-profits working to improve health outcomes and close gaps in the Greater Cincinnati region.

    Interact for Health is focusing on mental health, investments in policy and systems change, and building community power.

    In this initial round of grant funding, the partners below have been awarded grants based on their dedication to these areas and a commitment to addressing the health disparities that have led to a gap of lifespans up to 26 years between neighborhoods in our region.

    As part of the $3.7M investment, $1.3M will go to support partners working in mental health to increase the cultural competence of their workforce and programs.

    Mental Health Equity partners include:

    Beech Acres Parenting Center

    Bracken County Health Department

    Center for Healing the Hurt

    Central Clinic Behavioral Health

    Cradle Cincinnati and Queens Village

    Covington Partners

    Forever Kings

    From Fatherless to Fearless

    GLAD House

    Lighthouse Youth Services

    Love N Action CDC

    Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio

    Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission

    Our Tribe

    Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses

    Nearly $2M has been awarded to partners working on policy and systems change, community power building or narrative change.

    Advancing Health Justice partners include:

    A Picture’s Worth

    Brighton Properties

    Center for Closing the Health Gap in Greater Cincinnati

    Cradle Cincinnati and Queens Village

    City of Forest Park

    Communities United for Action

    Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless

    Green Umbrella

    Groundwork Ohio River Valley

    One Community One Family

    Price Hill Will

    Safety Council of Southwestern Ohio

    School Board School

    Seven Hills Neighborhood House

    The Center for Great Neighborhoods

    The Women’s Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

    Working in Neighborhoods

    YWCA of Greater Cincinnati

    Over $500,000 in grants to amplify youth voice in developing solutions to address the youth mental health crisis.

    Amplifying Youth Voice partners include:

    Activities Beyond the Classroom

    American Youth Foundation

    Center for Healing the Hurt

    Cincinnati Black Theatre Company

    Northern Kentucky Cooperative for Educational Services (NKCES)

    Northern Kentucky University

    Talawanda School District

    The DAD Initiative


    Youth at the Center

  • August 22, 2023 12:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: The Daily Advocate

    Brown Introduces Additional AG Bills

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, announced the introduction of several food and agriculture bills he is working to include in the 2023 Farm Bill that will support Ohio famers and producers. Brown is helping to write the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill and has talked with farmers and other agriculture representatives at roundtables around the state over the last year as a part of the 2023 Farm Bill planning process.

    Brown’s legislative package includes the following bills:

    The Converting Our Waste Sustainably (COWS) Act: Brown, along with Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would establish a new manure management conservation program to improve water quality, cut costs, and help farmers increase profits while taking steps to minimize ag runoff – which contributes to harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys.

    This legislation is endorsed by the National Milk Producers Federation, Danone North America, the Environmental Working Group, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

    “Family farms, livestock and dairy operations are the backbone of Ohio’s agricultural economy,” said Sen. Brown. “Our bill is a commonsense way to provide new tools in the 2023 Farm Bill for Ohio’s livestock and dairy operations to cut costs and boost profits while reducing pollution and protecting our lakes, rivers, and streams.”

    “The US dairy industry is working on a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050, and having support to upgrade on-farm manure management systems would be a valuable resource for farmers in the journey towards carbon neutrality,” said Luke VanTilburg, co-owner of MVP Dairy, Celina.

    “Danone North America is proud to support Sen. Brown and his efforts with the COWS Act. Dairy yogurt is an essential nutritional option for many families and we know that by partnering with dairy farms we can work together with practical on-farm solutions that can significantly reduce GHG emissions such as methane, protect our waters and increase profitability for farms. The COWS Act will bring more financeable opportunities for dairies of all sizes across the country,” said Chris Adamo, VP Public Affairs and Regenerative Ag Policy, Danone North America.

    Supporting Urban and Innovative Farmers Act: Brown, along with Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), introduced legislation to support the growth of urban and suburban farmers through increased programmatic and research funding. The bill would make programmatic reforms to the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) to improve the content and delivery of technical assistance to urban and innovative producers, enable cooperative agreements with community experts, increases direct access to grant funds for farmers, and scales up composting and food waste initiatives.

    Endorsers of the legislation include the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, CEA Alliance, Fair Food Network, Food Trust, PASA Sustainable Agriculture, ReImagine Appalachia, RAFI-USA, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Produce Perks Midwest, Farm to Table NM, Local Matters, Ohio Association of Foodbanks, and the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council.

    “Urban farmers create jobs and opportunity in Ohio cities, and help feed our communities – yet too often they haven’t had the support they need to compete,” said Sen. Brown. “This bill will provide new tools and resources to support urban agriculture, from research to technical assistance and direct investment.”

    “Emerging challenges to producing the world’s food, fuel, and fiber will require new technologies and approaches like those outlined in the Supporting Urban and Innovative Farming Act,” said Cathann Kress, Vice President of Agricultural Administration and Dean of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. “Our college’s recent investments, including the Controlled Environment Agricultural Research Complex (CEARC), aim to keep Ohio at the forefront of innovation.”

    The Enabling Farmers to Benefit from Processing Nutrition Programs Act: Brown, along with Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced bicameral legislation to make it easier for families to use nutrition assistance benefits at farmers markets by helping farmers participate in federal nutrition programs. This would also make it easier for farmers to participate as authorized vendors under various nutrition programs.

    The bill would require the Department of Agriculture to:

    Streamline the application process for farmers and ranchers to participate as authorized vendors under the various nutrition programs.

    Streamline the equipment/technology systems needed by farmers to process the benefits under the various nutrition programs.

    Provide free wireless or mobile processing equipment and systems for farmers markets.

  • August 22, 2023 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: WVXU

    Cincinnati Fire Training Ground Expansion Has Neighbors Concerned Over Health and Safety

    Sandra Davis has lived in South Cumminsville for more than three decades. She says explosions from the nearby Cincinnati Fire training grounds along the Mill Creek used to shake her house. Some of her neighbors, including educators at Ethel M. Taylor Elementary School just 700 feet away, have concerns about air quality on burn days.

    Davis also wonders how the facility affects property values, especially with a $13 million expansion coming.

    "I understand the importance of the fire training facility," she says. "And it's really great that it's a regional training facility — they're able to help other fire departments — I just want it to be safe for the fire fighters as well as the community because we're here ongoing."

    Davis and other residents of South Cumminsville, Millvale and North Fairmount gathered June 29 at the school for a listening session organized by environmental nonprofit Green Umbrella and the Cincinnati NAACP. Officials from the Cincinnati Fire Department also attended to hear concerns and share information about future plans for the training facility's expansion.

    Interim Fire Chief Steven Breitfelder says the facility is "absolutely essential" and can't be located elsewhere, though he understands residents' concerns. In the past, the department has adjusted its schedule to shorten the amount of time it's actively burning material. The department also alerts the elementary school on days with live fire training so the school can shut off its HVAC intakes while burning is happening.

    Breitfelder says the training fires only include "Class A" material like wood and paper you'd find in the average campfire. He says those burns won't increase with the coming training facility, which will be classroom and indoor training space unrelated to live fire exercises. Those spaces — including expanded places for women who are firefighters or recruits to change into and out of their gear — are necessary to relieve current crowded conditions and to continue diversifying the fire department.

    "Though we're building this big training facility, it's not going to really increase any of the live burns or anything we're doing down there currently," he says.

    Officials with the department also say bomb detonations at the site are rare,happening maybe once a year these days. They do acknowledge smaller gunshot-like sounds occasionally happen as part of investigations into suspicious packages and other items. Those excercises sometimes use shotgun shells that contain water instead of pellets.

    Still, residents are concerned about noise and air quality impacts, especially for seniors who might not get alerts about the burns. Green Umbrella Climate Action Coordinator Tyeisha Cole, who grew up in Millvale, says those are part of more systemic environmental justice issues in the area. Millvale and surrounding communities are predominantly Black, with a history of disinvestment and industrial pollution. Cole is also chair of the Cincinnati NAACP's Environmental Climate Justice Committee.

    "What we want to focus on are win-win solutions, like investing in climate resilience adaptation strategies," she says.

    She'd like to see federally-funded air quality and noise mitigation efforts in the area around the training facility, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods as a whole.

    Breitfelder said the department will try to do more to notify residents on days when burns are taking place. Residents at the June 29 listening session asked if those notifications could be sent the day prior to training days. Breitfelder said he thinks that is possible.

    Some residents felt frustration with the fact they've been expressing the same worries about smoke and explosions for years. However, Davis says she was encouraged by the fact the department came to listen.

    "I was really glad to see they have concern and some investment in the area," she said.

  • June 02, 2023 1:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: Movers & Makers Cincinnati

    Ryan Mooney-Bullock of Green Umbrella

    Ryan Mooney-Bullock has been told she’s “always on brand.” If she’s not working in her role as executive director of Green Umbrella, Greater Cincinnati’s regional sustainability alliance, she’s probably taking a hike, spending time outside with her family or tending to their urban homestead in Spring Grove Village. Its 11 acres are home to a large vegetable garden, fruit trees, ducks, chickens, bees and goats, which help with invasive plant control (although Mooney-Bullock still spends plenty of time chain sawing honeysuckle).

    “Climate (and) environmental work isn’t just my job,” she said. “It’s how I live and truly guides almost every decision I make.”

    That lifestyle is fitting for the leader of an organization working to create a “resilient, sustainable region for all,” as its mission reads. Green Umbrella brings together hundreds of member organizations and individuals who share Mooney-Bullock’s passion for improving our region’s environmental health.

    “The organization really serves as a connector,” Mooney-Bullock said. “I like to think of myself as a spider in a big web, sensing who is touching down, what they’re interested in and how I can connect them.

    “I really love being able to ignite people’s interest in environmental issues and then figure out how they can plug into what’s going on, whether as an individual or as an organization … so they can all help create what’s coming next,” she said.

    Mooney-Bullock’s own interest in the environment sparked at a young age and was fueled by her family, her faith and lots of time outside.

    Growing up on the East Side of Cincinnati, she spent hours playing in the little ravine behind her home. She even joined a regional environmental club for kids. (Recycling was a hot topic back then.)

    “I always just felt some level of connection with the natural world, and I was pretty outraged that people would treat it like garbage,” she said.

    In her social justice-oriented, politically active family, those early environmentalist tendencies both fit with the dynamic and set her apart, giving her an issue she could take on as her own.

    Faith also helped shape her environmental ethic. “I recognize the divinity in the whole world, and that helps inspire me to take care of it and connect with it,” said Mooney-Bullock, who attends services at Christ Church Cathedral.

    From early interest to career

    It might seem as if Mooney-Bullock’s environmental career was a foregone conclusion, but that wasn’t her first inclination. She started at the University of Chicago with the goal of being an overseas doctor. Getting into the pre-med coursework, though, she realized it wasn’t for her. So she switched to environmental studies, another major that combined her interests in science and social justice.

    A summer internship with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based sustainability think tank, morphed into a full-time job after graduation.

    “It was focused on how can urban spaces be really sustainable, and how can we advocate for policies that create sustainability within urban spaces?” she said.

    After a few years, though, she realized she didn’t want to spend all of her time at a computer doing research and writing.

    “I wanted to be speaking to people who weren’t already convinced about these issues and helping to raise the next generation of environmental activists,” Mooney-Bullock said.

    So she headed back to school, earning her master’s in environmental science with a teaching certificate at Antioch University New England. When she finished her degree, she and her husband, Jesse, moved back to Cincinnati to be closer to family and to the hills and trees they loved so much. (They met in 1995 while students at Walnut Hills High School and have now been married for 21 years.) She spent the next three years teaching science at Princeton High School.

    After a few years at home to start her own family – she and Jesse have four kids, ages 6 (in May) to 16 – she made the transition from formal to informal education by joining the staff of the Civic Garden Center. There, she launched the Green Learning Station, an environmental education center, and helped craft education programs. That’s also when she got to know Green Umbrella, serving on one of its action teams.

    Chad Edwards, principal at Emersion DESIGN and a former Green Umbrella board member, recalls meeting Mooney-Bullock back then. The architect was teaching a seminar about sustainability at the University of Cincinnati and invited Mooney-Bullock to speak.

    “She was super passionate, exceptionally knowledgeable and really high energy, so the students really engaged,” he said.

    “I get energized when I get to be in front of people and share my passions,” Mooney-Bullock said, tracing her love of public speaking back to her high school years as a “theater kid.”

    In 2017, after a few more years at home with young children, Mooney-Bullock joined the Green Umbrella staff as communications and program manager. When she applied for the executive director role a year later, Edwards, who was on the hiring committee, recalled their previous interaction and took notice.

    He’s since been impressed with the organization’s growth under her leadership.

    “The way she’s been able to adapt and grow into the role has been, in my mind, pretty tremendous,” he said. “She’s been able to take us to the next level.”

    Wade Johnston, executive director of Tri-State Trails, agrees. He worked with Mooney-Bullock first as a colleague and then with her as his supervisor at Green Umbrella. (Tri-State Trails became its own nonprofit in February.)

    “She has a really great pulse on the sustainability movement here in Greater Cincinnati,” he said. “Under her leadership, Green Umbrella has matured a lot and become more sophisticated … I’m impressed by what she’s accomplished.”

    Growing an organization

    New initiatives launched or adopted during her tenure include:

    The 2023 Green Cincinnati Plan, lead by city and county officials with strong support from Green Umbrella on plan development, including co-facilitating community engagement efforts and co-designing the equity framework.

    Cincinnati 2030 District is a network of healthy, sustainable and high-performing buildings.

    Common Orchard Project plants orchards around Greater Cincinnati to provide fresh food, tree canopy and green space.

    Greater Cincinnati Regional Climate Collaborative connects government entities seeking to address climate impacts and become more sustainable.

    CPS Outside connects local organizations focused on providing outdoor experiences and environmental education for Cincinnati Public Schools students.

    Faith Communities Go Green mobilizes religious communities interested in climate change (now co-supported by EquaSion).

    All that growth required people. When she took the reins, the organization had a staff of four; today, they’re at 13, not counting four Tri-State Trails employees who were formerly Green Umbrella staff. It also took money: Green Umbrella increased its annual budget from $720,000 to $2 million under her watch.

    Mooney-Bullock is proud of the work they’ve done but recognizes there’s a lot more to do. “I try to pause and celebrate our successes, but I’m always thinking about the next thing, because there’s so much to do,” she said.

    And although Green Umbrella focuses on organizations, advocacy and policy, its work really comes down to people.

    “Pretty much everything we do is around how does this affect people?” she said. “I think people want to know how the work we’re doing is going to make their community better in a lot of ways: health, quality of life, economic impacts.”

    As an example, she pointed to planting trees and decreasing emissions to improve air quality – which helps people living with asthma.

    That way of framing things brings together diverse groups of people with a range of political beliefs, Edwards said. Green Umbrella works in a 10-county region that includes audiences ranging from urban to suburban to rural.

    “She has been very mindful of helping people understand that (sustainability) is something we can all agree on and rally around; this does not have to be divisive,” Edwards said. “She’s been able to pull people together … and show them that we can all work together for the common good and for each individual’s good.”

    Johnston remarked on Mooney-Bullock’s optimism in a field where “it’s easy to be frustrated and feel cynical or hopeless. Ryan is upbeat and genuine and leads from her heart,” he said.

    “I’m really encouraged by human resiliency and our ability to come up with amazing solutions,” Mooney-Bullock said. “We have most of the ideas we need to really create a more sustainable future. We just need to be all hands on deck going in that direction.”

    Cincinnati is apparently a good place to be doing environmental work, for a few reasons.

    “The City of Cincinnati has had a climate and sustainability plan longer than most cities, especially Midwestern cities,” she said. “My assessment is that people are pretty impressed when they hear what’s going on in Cincinnati.” The region has a huge amount of green space, an asset that must be protected, she said.

    Additionally, the region is considered a “climate haven,” meaning experts predict the impacts of climate change won’t be as devastating here as in other parts of the country, she said. “We are expecting a significant increase in population for this reason.”

    Mooney-Bullock hopes Green Umbrella’s continued work connecting people and organizations to work on sustainability will help our region produce solutions that no one entity could tackle on its own.

    “I hope that we are successful in making Greater Cincinnati a region where everyone has access to health and environmental quality and that it’s a beautiful place to live for generations,” she said.

    What you can do

    Mooney-Bullock offers a few easy ways anyone can make an environmental impact:

    Plant trees, especially native ones

    Take advantage of “green” incentives for energy and transportation

    “Green up” your commute by walking, biking, taking the bus or driving an electric vehicle

    Make small adjustments to your home’s temperature

    Be more intentional about how much food you buy, and use what you buy to avoid food waste that will end up in the landfill and produce methane.

  • May 23, 2023 3:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Source: City Beat

    Going Green(er): Cincinnati Researchers are Focusing on the Climate Challenges that Intimately Affect Residents

    This story is featured in CityBeat's April 5 print edition.

    The number of eco-minded businesses – from plant-based delis to secondhand clothing stores to zero-waste refilleries – is growing in Cincinnati. These establishments make it easy (and, for some, fun) for consumers to reduce their carbon footprints.

    But what about the region’s sustainability efforts behind closed doors, when direct profit isn’t even in the equation?

    A member of the 2030 Districts Network, Cincinnati is one of 23 (and counting) urban cities across North America that have publicly committed to reducing energy consumption, water use and transportation emissions by at least 50% before scientists say it’s too late. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2030 is the year that “unprecedented” action would need to take place to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

    The Cincinnati district features a group of 49 member organizations that include breweries, museums and universities, all pledging to do their part. The group’s 18 founding members, like Cincinnati’s government and the Cincinnati Zoo, collectively are committing more than 7 million square feet to the district.

    So why aren't Cincinnati’s climate efforts common knowledge?

    “I think other parts of the world acknowledge our climate progress more than Cincinnatians do,” Ollie Kroner, director of Cincinnati’s office of environment and sustainability, tells CityBeat.

    In a February story in The Guardian, Cincinnati is noted as one of the global cities using Panorama, a national climate action plan tool designed to connect climate action to financing and ultimately to turn ideas into a plausible course of action.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the city’s current efforts, Kroner says.

    “We are laser-focused on the climate crisis: how it will impact city government, how it will impact the quality of life of the people that live here and what we’re gonna do about it,” Kroner says.

    A new green plan

    The latest iteration of the Green Cincinnati Plan is slated to be revealed this spring. Spearheaded by the city’s office of environment and sustainability, it’s an all-encompassing environment plan for the city that has been reimagined and updated every five years since 2008.

    “The Green Cincinnati Plan is an action plan. It analyzes where all our carbon emissions come from and then presents a strategy to move toward carbon neutrality by 2050,” Kroner says. “Cincinnati was actually among the early U.S. cities to adopt climate action back in 2008, so we have some practice of this.”

    This will be the fourth iteration of the plan, updating on a five-year rhythm.

    “As you might imagine, the science keeps improving; politics evolve; the technology we have available to think about continues to progress,” Kroner says, noting that carbon neutrality is a big goal.

    According to the Green Cincinnati Plan, committing to carbon neutrality is a goal, but in the fight for climate justice, the environment isn’t the only factor. In partnership with Groundwork Ohio River Valley and Green Umbrella, two esteemed sustainability allies, Cincinnati’s office of environment and sustainability has created a climate equity indicators report that looks at 55 different metrics, helping the office understand how the climate crisis plays out differently from one community to the next. The data collected from this report reveals how some communities are more vulnerable than others.

    “We had some funding to actually pay members from that community to come forward and treat them as the subject matter experts on their community and the way that climate is impacting them,” Kroner says. “As our data improves, we are able to zoom in at the city level, zoom in at the neighborhood level, we’re starting to zoom in at the block level – and when you have that kind of data paired with the lived experience of our community members, you can develop real-world practical solutions.”

    Kroner says the climate conversation can’t exist without considering those who are affected by it.

    “Our steering committee embraced an equity commitment acknowledging inequities [that] government has helped drive historically, addressing those and committing to community voice in the process,” Kroner says.

    Leading this steering committee is Cincinnati City Council member Meeka Owens. In kickstarting the Green Cincinnati Plan refresh, Owens says the framework has revolved around sustainability, resilience and equity.

    Owens and other officials kicked off the Green Cincinnati Plan’s refresh last May, and 42 community engagement events took place shortly after. Since then, 50 out of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods have held feedback sessions.

    “We are doing the work of continually getting this message out there and really focusing on communities that have not been a part of the climate conversation and being really intentional there,” Owens says.

    Feedback gathered from the sessions was woven into a draft of a cohesive action plan that the public then reviewed and commented on in January and February. Residents provided more than 600 comments, and Owens and the office of environment and sustainability now are integrating that feedback into a final plan to be unveiled later in April.

    Kroner says residents can expect to see a focus on housing in the Green Cincinnati Plan.

    “Housing is a loud theme from the community. Why would I care about climate when I’m being evicted next week?” Kroner says. “Designing programs to help reduce utility costs, specifically for people who are renting, is one of our core focuses.”

    Kroner says he anticipates a major challenge ahead.

    “All of the climate models show that we need to begin to electrify everything. What can we do to help encourage or incentivize the move to electric homes that can be powered by clean renewable energy?” he asks.

    The plan also prioritizes transportation.

    “About a third of our emissions in Cincinnati come from transportation,” Kroner says. “We’ve just passed this momentous bus study, so we have funding to really make major improvements. What can we do as a city to maximize those [state] dollars and encourage development along transit corridors to help connect communities, help reduce that transportation carbon footprint?”

    Kroner says that to accomplish the goal of a greener Cincinnati, climate change must be approached from its effects on the environment and the people living in it. It’s a transition that could take decades, but it’s an opportunity he feels must be maximized now.

    “We really feel like this is our moment. We have strong leadership from the mayor-council, we have tremendous community support, and the federal government is making funding available in a way that we’ve never seen before. In some ways, the stars are aligning right now and we feel like we have to make the most of this window of opportunity.”

    Around one-third of Cincinnati’s emissions come from transportation. - Photo: Aidan Mahoney

    Around one-third of Cincinnati’s emissions come from transportation.

    Cincinnati’s local climate challenges

    Some experts assert that a human health perspective is important when studying climate change. That’s what Susan Pinney, the director of the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Environmental Genetics, is doing.

    “We feel we’re one of the best-kept secrets of Cincinnati,” Pinney tells CityBeat. “The focus is research on the health effects of environmental exposures.”

    Cincinnati faces a number of climate challenges, Pinney says, adding that addressing how these issues affect residents’ health is crucial for the researchers at the Center for Environmental Genetics. She says there are two significant weather events exacerbated by climate change on her radar: floods and tornadoes.

    “Floods can actually stir up waste deposits along the river, and we especially worry about the Ohio River. Floods can also cause mold in homes, which is a huge health problem,” Pinney says, noting that with the high traction brought in by activities like boating and kayaking, it’s imperative for the Ohio River to be safe.

    After experiencing a flooding disaster in her own home in New Richmond, Pinney says she understands first-hand how time-consuming and costly it can be to repair a flooded home and actually rid it of all debris, from the carpet to the walls.

    “People who don’t have a whole lot of resources can’t do that. Although the visible mold may be gone, there is mold that is invisible and they’re living with that the rest of their lives and the health effects of that,” Pinney says, adding that her team at UC is working to change that.

    With climate trends and their deviations vital in helping inform future decisions at the Center for Environmental Genetics, Pinney notes that the characteristics of tornadoes have begun to shift.

    “Data seems to suggest the number of tornadoes has not changed throughout the years, but what has changed is the power of the tornado – the intensity of these tornadoes – and where they’re located,” Pinney says, mentioning tornado touchdowns in irregular locations like Philadelphia in recent years. “What are the airborne exposures that are created by a tornado?” We wanna get into that. A tornado comes around, buildings are demolished and such, houses have asbestos in them, they have metals like lead in the paint, and now it’s in the environment.``

    Pinney says she especially is concerned about the rain that follows a tornado.

    “Things get saturated. Buildings that have been damaged but are still standing, [they] don’t have a roof and get saturated with rain, and then later on they end up with mold,” Pinney says.

    Pinney’s department is able to carry out its mission through its partnership with the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, which provides necessary funding.

    ”It’s money to improve our capacity to do research, by improving our labs, by improving the expertise of our scientists, by encouraging young faculty, giving them some salary support so they can build their research program.”

    Pinney notes the department’s recent work on air pollution.

    “We’ve got around the problem of school buses idling while they’re waiting to pick up kids – that’s an example of something that research drove the change and then members of the general public insisted on the change, and so that’s made a substantial change in exposures to kids.”

    Pinney says it’s important to her to make Cincinnati’s air and water safer.

    “If we’re encouraging people to use our bike trails, to use our walking trails, to run in marathons here, we really have to pay attention to our air quality,“ she says. “In clean air, people can participate more in sports. In clean air, we have more fun.”

    Looking to the future

    Studying and teaching net-zero energy building at the University of Cincinnati and its College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, Anton Harfmann designs homes to be energy efficient from layout to materials to appliances. To help combat climate change, he combines his architectural engineering background with design.

    “Architectural engineering is that middle ground between the very creative side of architecture and the very practical side of engineering and tries to bridge that chasm between ideas and materials,” Harfmann says.

    Harfmann studies and teaches net-zero energy building – designing homes to be energy efficient from layout to materials to appliances. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, residential and commercial buildings account for 40% of all U.S. energy consumption. Putting his expertise and passion into practice, Harfmann has turned his 1834 farmhouse into somewhat of a lab, challenging himself with converting it into a net-zero residence while preserving its historic charm.

    His architecture and engineering students were able to visit this “lab” to gain hands-on learning, helping them prepare for future net-zero projects and, ultimately, do this work on a much larger scale in the community, Harfmann says.

    “Teaching this next generation, I have 50 voices now that are out there clamoring for this kind of stuff and who understand it and are able to then move forward with it on their own, as opposed to me doing one thing right. I can do my house, but that’s only one,” Harfmann says.

    Harfmann says there’s a difference between greening up older and newer homes, though.

    “The older homes are really difficult to solve this energy equation on,” Harfmann says. “New construction, it’s not as difficult because we have double-pane or triple-pane windows with low emissivity coatings and argon filled in between, and they’re extremely efficient compared to single-pane glass that is 170 years old.”

    While building new has its eco advantages, Harfmann acknowledges that not everyone has the resources to do so. In fact, he says that using buildings that already exist in Cincinnati can be the most energy-efficient option, so he was determined to prove that a sustainable old home was possible.

    “The idea is to match energy being consumed with energy being produced. If we can bring the energy consumption down as far as we possibly can, then that’s less we have to produce,” Harfmann says. “With the 1834 farmhouse, the problem is there’s only so much you can do in terms of energy consumption before you hit a brick wall – literally, because the walls there are just two or three [layers] with some brick.”

    Harfmann says he even found horsehair that was sprinkled into the plaster, which was used to prevent cracking as it expands and contracts.

    To make this older home more energy efficient, Harfmann started with LED bulbs and insulated where he could before moving on to the windows.

    “There were no storm windows when I moved in, so now suddenly I have two panes of glass and a little bit of air space, which helped tremendously. The windows are your weakest spot,” Harfmann says. “The windows are your weakest spot.” Harfmann says he patched the gaping holes and insulated his windows, reducing the amount of energy flowing through the walls, coming in from the summer heat or escaping the winter.

    Harfmann notes while many individuals are interested in making the switch to renewable energy options like solar, they often don’t see it as a good financial investment. To him, that’s a flawed model. While paying off a solar array could take years, Harfmann claims that adopters still save more in a year than they’d be accumulating in interest from money sitting in a savings account.

    “If you rethink, when will it pay off and think alternatively, how much interest am I making every year? How much am I not paying in utilities? This is tax-free income, and it’s immune to future energy cost rises,” Harfmann says.

    “The incentives that they’ve put out to insulate your home, buy better appliances, get storm windows, get a better water heater, buy an induction stove, buy an electric car are all there,” Harfmann continues, noting that the federal Inflation Reduction Act offers a rebate of up to $14K per household for converting to sustainable energy options.

    Back in City Hall, council member Meeka Owens says she believes that no effort is too small in the fight against climate change.

    “We’ll start at the micro level because it’s important that we’re all doing our part – are we recycling? Are we avoiding tonnage to the landfill by doing so? Are we composting?” Owens asks.

    Over at the office of environment and sustainability, director Oliver Kroner is working on large-scale changes throughout the community and agrees that everyone has an important role in addressing the climate crisis.

    “I think a lot of people think corporations are causing climate change and they point at corporations as the responsible party. Corporations definitely play a role, but absolutely individuals do also,” Kroner says.

    He urges individuals to consider the environmental impact of their day-to-day lives, from their purchases to their food.

    “Those small daily choices do accumulate in a very major way, and I think that we need to own that as individuals and make the right choices, and the organizations we’re a part of will follow suit,” Kroner says. “Behavior is contagious, so leading by example is where we need to be.”

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