Climate change starts with you

Last week’s climate strikes and rally met a friend of mine with unusual suspicion. “Was that today?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“What does that do? Where was it?” She asked.

“It was at the Statehouse when no one was there to hear it. As for what it does, it lets a lot of people gather to express an idea,” I replied. I was trying to be neutral about it.

“But it was in the middle of the day?” She asked, puzzled.

“Yes. Yes, it was.”

“So what does that do?”

“Well, I suppose it makes some people feel nice,” I replied. It was all I could think of.

Truthfully, I question the value of such a rally on a weekday, mid-day, when the Statehouse is mostly empty save for a few aides, court workers, and State Police. There is value in the media attention it got for a short burst. There’s value in knowing other people share an idea as you do.

For Indianapolis’ part as a city, we don’t do a lot in the realm of meaningful action on climate. Mayor Ballard got blasted for all the EV cars he supported. I figure we all recognize that didn’t work out as planned, but they are probably the future of cars. So a few extra charging stations isn’t a bad thing.

The best thing public policy can do is sustainably build city infrastructure to support efficiency. Efficiency in cost, energy usage, water usage, and mobility. There are plenty of debatable ways to do that. For better or worse, the City has settled into a routine of building for energy savings and mobility of cars to reduce congestion. Citizen’s is finally able to do the work of repairing water infrastructure, which cuts down on billions of gallons of water lost from leaking pipes each year.

The energy savings is always a little suspect to me on any new structure, though. My home is part of IPL’s Green Power initiative, which basically means we buy energy offset credits for wind and solar power. But it doesn’t cost much of anything. Energy costs in the midwest are so low anyway that our bill is never much per kilowatt-hour. And the Green Power credits raise our bill by about $2-$4 a month.

That said, the climate strike made me wonder how many of those people drove to the Statehouse. I wondered how many went out for lunch afterward and what they ordered. I wondered how many live their lives in a way to match the actions they’re after.

I happened to be walking out of the bank and spoke to one person who rode his bike there. He lives on the near north side and works flexible hours from home. Another handful of people got on the nearby Red Line bus. I suspect most people, statistically, drove a car.

I also suspect a high percentage of participants are vegetarian or vegan. But certainly not all. There’s a lot of hand-wringing people do over climate change, and perhaps with good reason. Their public action is commendable — it’s built-in right there in Constitution, so it’s good to use it.

What bothers me are a great many people I speak to who are worried about climate change and think the government should immediately do something. That’s also debatable, but there’s a mismatch when you ask people what they’re doing as individuals. Living close to work, reducing their red meat and fossil fuel consumption, and recycling are all too often not high up on their lists. But they’re also really easy to do, comparatively.

Indianapolis as a city should probably be doing more to accelerate bicycle connectivity through trails and highly-protected, off-street paths. Too much of our infrastructure is disconnected in such a way things like the Cultural Trail are wonderful, but you can’t get there from most places. Even if you never use it, the world’s a little better off for it. It might even do something to budge Indianapolis’ collective waistline.

Indianapolis should also probably recognize city-wide recycling services are a solved problem. Why we continue to throw even aluminum cans and glass bottles into our trash system is bonkers.

And Indianapolis residents should also recognize true, robust, world-altering change starts with individuals. To care about an issue and not merely pass it off as “someone else’s problem” requires the fortitude to make serious changes in your life wherever possible.

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Justin Harter for District 12