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Climate Change

When I was born in 1982, Braddock District could expect to experience 18 days per year where the temperature was 90 degrees or higher. Today, we can expect to experience 30 days per year where the temperature is 90 degrees or higher. And without dramatic action to reduce carbon emissions that number will continue to rise. According to analysis from the climate impact lab, by the year 2060 we could see 52 days per year with 90 degree or higher temperature. Climate change is real, it is happening right here in Northern Virginia, and it is absolutely necessary for us as a community to prepare for the changes it will create while doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint and lessen the negative global impacts.

In 2007, I was honored to be in the room when then-Chairman Gerry Connolly launched Cool Counties, a national effort for counties to reduce global warming emissions.That program asks local governments and regions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below their 2005 levels. Between 2005 and 2015, Fairfax County succeeded in reducing emissions by 9%, a decrease largely driven by a shift from coal-fired to natural gas power plants. But much work remains to be done to meet the 2050 target. In 2018, led by Chairman Sharon Bulova and Vice-Chairman Penny Gross, Fairfax County adopted an Operational Energy Strategy, laying out a framework to reduce energy costs and emissions. Connolly put Fairfax County in the lead of a national movement to fight climate change and the current Board has laid the groundwork to substantially reduce emissions. Now our challenge is to build on that commitment to combat the existential threat of global climate change.

Our goal for county operations should be clear and simple: achieve carbon neutrality. By adopting a social cost of carbon model and tracking our total carbon footprint for county government facilities and fleet operations, we can establish a plan to reduce net carbon emissions to zero. Meeting this goal will require building on the existing operational energy strategy to find more efficiencies, expand our use of on-site renewable energy at county facilities, and rapidly transition to a hybrid/electric vehicle fleet. The good news is that this effort will generate real savings for county taxpayers as even the existing strategy is projected to save $82 million in utility costs over ten years.

While likely the single largest contributor, Fairfax County government and school operations make up just 3% of our total carbon emissions. The remaining 97% come from private homes and buildings, automobiles, and other contributors. As President Trump continues his assault on climate change initiatives and environmental protections at the federal level, we must do more at the local level. We should expand programs like Solarize NOVA to encourage rooftop solar, fastrack our adoption of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, and redouble our efforts to educate the community about the benefits of efficiency and renewable energy.