Cary, NC – With climate change and carbon pollution now a dominant topic in the United States, the Town of Cary is reviewing ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, with a goal to reduce emissions by 100 percent in the next 20 years.
Cary’s Role in Climate Change Mitigation
At the Thursday, October 10, 2019 Cary Town Council meeting, Town Council unanimously voted to accept recommendations from Cary’s Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) on carbon reduction. Now, it’s up to Town Council to review those recommendations and provide guidance to Cary staff on what to do next.
The recommendations deal specifically with carbon dioxide, one of the most common greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the main industrial contributor to climate change. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat from solar radiation, increasing the temperature of Earth’s surface, creating an imbalance in the global climate and causing a myriad of extreme ecological disasters, as outlined in the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have increased by nearly 50 percent, and are currently at 415 parts per million. Carbon dioxide is not the only chemical that traps and reflects heat, as methane, hydrofluorocarbons, nitrogen trifluoride all reflect heat far more than carbon dioxide, though they are present in smaller quantities.
The EAB’s recommendations call for reducing carbon air emissions by 25 percent by 2025 and 100 percent by 2040. These are community-wide goals, not only for Town of Cary buildings and facilities, meaning private citizens will need to address their carbon footprint as part of these plans as well.
“Staff is currently working on a community-wide carbon emissions baseline, which is the first step identified in the EAB recommendations. The baseline will help the town assess which areas have the greatest opportunity for impact – for instance, transportation, buildings, etc.,” said Emily Barrett, sustainability manager for the Town of Cary. “We will also work with a multi-departmental staff team and the EAB to refine an action plan.”
Where Can Cary Reduce Carbon?
Establishing those baselines and metrics is one of the seven recommendations made by the EAB.
Another of these recommendations is that all new buildings in Cary should use as much energy as they generate, meaning energy efficient construction (windows, insulation, HVAC systems, etc.) while also incorporating renewable energy production, such as solar panels on walls and roofs. Also, in construction, the recommendations calls for Cary to “use the site planning process to encourage retention of stands of trees and high-value habitats, with an emphasis on contiguous tree canopy over preservation of solitary champion trees.”
Related to sustainable building is the use of green infrastructure in the recommendations. This includes restoring Cary’s soils and floodplains while building up the tree canopy to sequester carbon dioxide. The recommendation does not stop at protecting existing forests but suggests finding way to restore forests at risk and planting new forests as well. Earlier this year, Town Council also voted on the EAB’s recommendations for Cary’s tree canopy, including hiring an urban forester.
On a similar subject, the EAB’s recommendations include food waste and agriculture in Cary, including not only building up local food production and local farmers to reduce the distance food has to travel but also finding ways to cut down on food waste, such as “building a network of local resources and programs to reallocate unwanted food.” For residents, one recommendation is to replace front lawns with urban farming or victory gardens, cutting down on the pollution created by grass lawns.
Another way the recommendations speak directly to residents is through transportation changes – namely, finding ways for people to get out of their cars and walk or bike more. While Cary has already invested in greenways, the recommendations call for this to be expanded, as well as “co-locating a mix of affordable housing, retail and business and open space” to areas redeveloped for bike, walking and public transportation access. The recommendations even suggests exploring car-free, pedestrian-only zones, which has been adopted in some major cities such as Brussels in recent years. Also, the recommendations call for the Town of Cary to find ways to incentivize electric, zero emission vehicle usage through town infrastructure.
“The carbon reduction goals that are being passed by communities and companies are bold and aspirational,” Barrett said. “As Jack Smith, Council liaison to the EAB, said, ‘This is an opportunity for Cary to be bold and be smart. We are proud of the EAB’s work because it will help move us forward.'”
Those final two recommendations call for Cary to advocate for these carbon reduction goals at the state and national level and also educating town residents on not only the importance of climate change action but what they can do to reduce emissions.
“The Town involves its citizens and stakeholders in all types of planning activities with public information,” the EAB’s report reads. “An educational campaign on carbon reduction and carbon sequestration will be needed to successfully reach our goals and engage our citizens.”
The entire list of recommendations and details is available on the Town of Cary website.
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by Michael Papich, Good Hope Farms and Jessica Patrick.