Dozens of county residents filled the first-floor hearing room of Winchester Hall on Tuesday night, speaking in support of a resolution introduced by two Frederick County Council members intended to combat climate change.
The resolution, introduced by Councilman Kai Hagen (D) and Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D), sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
It also establishes an ad hoc committee, the “Climate Emergency Mobilization Workgroup,” made up of local scientific stakeholders and officials from various county government divisions. If the resolution is passed by a majority of council members, it would take up to a year to submit recommendations to the council about how to combat climate change.
After Fitzwater and Hagen introduced the resolution, they had a panel of three people explain to council members why it was important. They were:
- Kevin Sellner, a Hood College senior scholar who studies water quality and algae blooms.
- Joyce Tuten, a chemistry teacher at Clarksburg High School and member of the Middletown Sustainability Committee.
- Mackenzie Wright, a Walkersville High School graduate and student at Loyola University Maryland.
In his presentation, Sellner said some may disagree about the severity of the climate crisis, but it is important for local governments to invest in better infrastructure and other resources in order to save money in the long term.
Droughts and wet fields in the spring are just a couple of factors that affect farmers’ crop yield and productivity, he said.
“We must govern to minimize those impacts, so we don’t pay for those improvements later,” Sellner said.
Tuten started her presentation by stating that many jurisdictions — more than 30 countries and 77 cities and counties in the U.S. — have passed some sort of climate resolution.
That includes neighboring Montgomery County and Alexandria, Virginia, both of which have passed resolutions since late 2017.
“I think it’s really vital, vital for us to recognize … that we are one small jurisdiction, but we are all part of this one rock floating through space,” Tuten said of Frederick County’s position on the issue. “We need to collectively act and make some changes.”
That point was furthered by Wright, who said it’s important for current lawmakers to act because climate change will have an impact on future generations.
She said she’s heard from many of her friends in college who live in coastal towns about the effects of climate change: greater storms, rising sea levels and other issues.
Another impact, she said, is the health of future generations.
“Climate change is threatening the future of my generation’s health,” Wright said, noting more global cases of malaria, Zika virus and other diseases.
The meeting was contentious at some points, as Councilman Phil Dacey (R) questioned the panel about the severity of the issue, at one point saying he disagreed with the “alarmist” beliefs some in the crowd held.
“I guess what I’m reacting to is some of that visceral [behavior],” Dacey said. “I’m not denying that people believe. I’m worried about some of the language.”
But Hagen, Fitzwater and others said the issue is a threat to the future ecological health of the planet. Sellner, in response to a question from Councilman Steve McKay (R) about how to prioritize paying for improvements to address climate change, said that it might be best to reframe the issue.
“If we put it through the lens of a warmer, wetter or drier climate, would it make it easier for you to make those calls? … [Because] as you make infrastructure decisions, that infrastructure has to be built for the future,” Sellner said.
Paul Walker, group chair of the Sierra Club Catoctin group — an environmental organization that serves Frederick County, Washington and western Carroll counties — said in an interview before Tuesday’s meeting that his organization “fully supports” the resolution.
“The most important thing is everybody participating to try and reverse climate change. ... It’s mitigation and adaptation now, climate change is happening,” Walker said.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said after the discussion she and colleagues would deliberate and decide whether to introduce or vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.