As the Frederick County Council prepares to vote Tuesday on the latest changes to the proposed Livable Frederick master plan, the biggest disagreement may come down to one word: crisis.
County Councilman Kai Hagen (D) has amended a vision statement in the Environment section of the plan to include the phrase “climate change crisis.”
It’s unclear what the impact of including this mostly symbolic wording would have on the plan, which takes a holistic look at the county’s future, but the disagreement over the word crisis this past week has Hagen’s fellow council members wondering whether the language would result in positive or negative changes.
“Some people are [saying], ‘Why are you adding this element about climate change or our climate change crisis?’” Hagen said. “And the answer is those are good ideas, they are among the things we would want to do to address this problem in our community. ... But they do not come inherently with any sense of urgency.
“When you view these opportunities and initiatives and supporting initiatives through the lens of climate change, there is a greater chance of urgency of addressing them with greater commitment.”
Hagen’s amendment is the first of more than a dozen he has drafted and reads in part: “Our county has maintained the commitment to respond to our ongoing climate change crisis in a manner that reflects the magnitude of the threat to our community and our share of the responsibility for the problem.”
Hagen said Friday that despite debate at the July 9 council meeting with councilmen Steve McKay (R) and Phil Dacey (R), he wasn’t going to revise the amendment. Their concern was mostly with the word “crisis,” given the word appears nowhere else in Livable Frederick.
The amendment was a product of months of input from environmental groups countywide, and was “wordsmithed” extensively to try to illustrate climate change’s impact on the county, Hagen said.
Hagen added even though several initiatives in the plan concern climate change, including renewable energy and smart growth principles, it’s important to view those with the phrase “climate change crisis.”
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) is supportive of Hagen’s amendment, and said she was impressed with how succinctly written it was.
Climate change is having an impact on the planet, she added, and the word “crisis” is a fair assessment of how much.
“I don’t think the word crisis is an overstatement of how important climate change is, and having it as part of that opening vision statement for the Environment [section] of Livable Frederick is the right place to do it,” Fitzwater said.
The impact “climate change crisis” could have on Livable Frederick and the other corresponding planning documents may concern a variety of issues, Hagen said. Those could vary from reducing carbon emissions from motor vehicles to expanding forests and protecting agriculture countywide, he said.
Still, some council members have pushed back on the use of “crisis,” including Dacey, who said he believed crisis was an alarmist word, and was concerned about the impact that word could have on county planning.
He said he understood the impact of climate change on the planet, but identified one issue he believes truly is a crisis in Frederick County.
“Crisis indicates to me imminent physical harm or imminent damage. ... I would say the opioid situation we’re facing is a crisis, where people are dying every day because of the abuse of opioids,” Dacey said.
McKay said if the word is removed, he likely will vote for the amendment. But since it’s the only use of it in the document, an already strong word carries even more weight, he added.
“It really singles it out there … if we were throwing ‘crisis’ around willy-nilly in the document, we could be having a different conversation. But we’re not,” McKay said.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said she was concerned as well about putting the word “crisis” in the document, but would probably vote for the amendment if it remained, as Livable Frederick is a guide, not a legal document.
She said she’s talking to Hagen on Monday about removing the word, as doing so might lead to a 7-0 vote, which could send a stronger message to county planners and other officials about the council’s support for that part of the document.
Keegan-Ayer added that compromising with other council members might help him on future pieces of legislation, such as his proposed ban on single-use plastic.
“When you become too wedded to specific terminology and you’re not willing to give and take on specific terminology, you end up damaging some of those relationships you’re going to need to collaborate on the actual legislation that will enact some of those potential changes,” she said.