GOSHEN — Many of the people who will be most affected by climate change had a message for city officials Tuesday: Act now, before it’s too late.
Goshen City Council voted to adopt the goal of making the city carbon neutral within 20 years. The audience – one of the largest at a council meeting where backyard chickens or smoking laws weren’t on the agenda – broke into applause after the 6-0 vote.
The measure was developed by the youth caucus at Goshen High School and introduced by the youth representative on council, Felix Perez Diener. They presented their research on climate change and what they hope to accomplish with the resolution, which sets city government the task of canceling out its emissions by 2035.
Over a dozen people came forward ahead of the vote to urge council to pass the resolution. They included parents, doctors, educators and students, some as young as seven.
“I feel very strongly about council taking action on climate change because we only have one Earth,” said young resident Poppy Dee Kendall as she strained to see over the podium. “If we keep using fossil fuels... we’ll have more pollution and my daddy’s asthma will get worse. Then we’ll have to move somewhere that’s cleaner so he can have fresh air. But I don’t want to move. I love Goshen, I want to live and play here forever.”
Leading by example
Ways to offset emissions include increasing the tree canopy, reducing waste and using alternative modes of transportation, Perez Diener said. Under the resolution, the city will take a baseline measurement of current carbon output, work to create and implement a Climate Action Plan by 2021 and consider forming an Office of Sustainability.
“Now that we have our goals defined, the next critical step is to make a plan. This resolution is vague and unspecific, but we call for a climate action plan that will find specifics and put them into place to achieve our goals,” Perez Diener said. “Much of what will happen next is determined by the assessments that the City of Goshen goes through.”
Mayor Jeremy Stutsman noted that Goshen is joining six or seven communities with carbon reduction resolutions. The City of South Bend passed a similar measure Monday, setting a goal of having a climate action plan in place by this fall.
He stressed that the resolution is non-binding but said it does make a statement, one he hopes the rest of the community can get behind. He also hopes the city can build on the green projects that it’s already been doing for years, such as solar energy adoption.
“We are not talking about a resolution that creates mandates on the community of Goshen. This resolution speaks to the city of Goshen, city government. We are gonna work really hard to better all we’re doing, and lead by example,” he said. “We lose nothing by trying, and we lose everything by not doing anything.”
Before voting on the measure, council members amended the language to make the distinction between municipal government and the community more clear.
A few council members also remarked that there may be things they would challenge in the resolution, but they agreed with the end result and said they recognize it’s what the younger residents are asking for.
“Someone’s gotta be the guinea pig, and you can then find out if it works or if it doesn’t work,” councilman Brett Weddell said. “There might be a few points in here that I might think should be included, not be included, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what those couple of points are because the sum of the whole is what we’re after here.”
Councilman Adam Scharf said he hopes it’s only the first step for the city, and that it prompts council to take a second look at some laws and policies that could stand to be changed. He gave examples including laws on what trees people are allowed to plant, how many unrelated people can share a residence or how many parking spaces a business has to provide.
Council also had praise for the students bringing the proposal forward.
“I think one of the very first steps is to understand the urgency, and I think you have laid that before us very well,” Councilwoman Julia Gautsche told them. “And I hope we can achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. That’s a pretty steep hill to climb, and it will take all of us doing a lot of different things ... It’s very powerful, especially coming from people your age.”