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Two Rays of Hope

by Charlie Grymes, MFVMN Class of 2008

Remember how this area looked when you moved here? The steady transformation of fields and forests after World War II, as Prince William County developed into a bedroom community, has dramatically impacted our natural areas.

Creating an even greater risk of impacts, as suburbia expands further from the urban core, the Land Use Chapter in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan adopted by the Board of County Supervisors last December removed the growth boundary established in 1998.

Lots of groups are educating homeowners about how to minimize energy use, recycle, and “live green.” There is a constant refrain to recycle plastic water bottles and pick up litter. A few more people are planting natives and pollinator gardens. Master Naturalists set good examples for our families and neighbors – but do you really think that is enough to maintain our wildlife populations?

Look at the 2040 Comprehensive Plan to see the trend line. Green places are steadily disappearing as gray infrastructure is built. Is development with only token conservation projects inevitable? Are children now in kindergarten doomed to see just scattered “measles spots of green” remaining in Prince William when they graduate from high school?

What could change the pattern?

Answer: Public pressure for elected officials, business leaders, and homeowners to address climate change. When hurricanes, droughts, "Snowmageddons," and other “100 year events” hit us regularly now, we are all reminded that business-as-usual is no longer acceptable.

But what can we do, besides complain?

Answer: Prince William County’s Sustainability Office is preparing a Community Energy and Sustainability Master Plan (CESMP). Randy Freed, our own chapter member, is chair of the county’s Sustainability Commission.

The CESMP will outline action steps needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of the 2005 level by 2030. That is the target adopted in 2020 by all 24 jurisdictions in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

CESMP action steps will include some easy-to-understand, low-cost, easy-to-implement “low-hanging fruit.” The Board of County Supervisors may fund some of those items in the FY24 budget now being developed.

There will also be politically-hard action steps too. Funding and implementing those will be necessary in order to meet the 2030 target. Even if you failed eighth-grade civics class, you know that I-want-to-be-elected-again officials will be reluctant to adopt those action steps. We are naturalists, and that’s just human nature.

Anything else?

Keep Prince William Beautiful (KPWB) is boldly going where it has never gone before. It has organized a Green Business Council, and will provide members with an Environmental Toolkit including a carbon footprint audit checklist. KPWB’s grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality requires regular reports on whether progress towards sustainability by members is substantial.

What can Master Naturalist do?

Temperature and precipitation are changing; that’s climate science. How to deal with the challenge is political science. We can get informed, and then we can use our knowledge to enhance public understanding of sustainability and conservation issues. Unless we reach out and share knowledge, business-as-usual will continue to reduce the number of vernal pools, the sounds on birds and insects, the beauty of local landscapes.

We share our perspectives as individuals, and of course we do not lobby wearing our Master Naturalist hats. Still, we can use our knowledge when we constructively support solutions that may emerge from the Sustainability Commission, the Green Business Council, and other organizations. Ditto when we constructively question if proposed actions steps are significant or just reflect tokenism.

Token efforts by government agencies and businesses will not change business-as-usual. “Greenwash” efforts won’t achieve the 50% emissions reduction set in the 2030 target. However, actually measuring progress and creating report cards will allow the public to give credit and chose to do business with the organizations that are walking the talk vs. faking it until 2030.

There are lots of opportunities to get informed and to speak out. The Sustainability Office is creating a wealth of research material focused on local greenhouse gas emissions and local options. The Green Business Council planned to hold its first quarterly conference on March 21.

There is no guarantee that the Sustainability Commission and the Green Business Council will bend the curve towards sustainability, but they offer two rays of hope.


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