Last week the fifth meeting of the Energy Conservation Plan Taskforce was held. This task force was formed in February and has been meeting for the past five months to write a plan that outlines ways the City of Red Lodge can reduce its energy costs, energy usage, and greenhouse gas emissions. It is essentially a Climate Action Plan, but hopefully less contentious. The group is nearing the end of its planning stage, and we have begun to think about how best to frame the plan and present it to the City Council and the public.
The task force members represent a wide spectrum of perspectives and carry their own unique set of expertise, ranging from teachers and Council members to solar installers and electric co-op managers. What they have in common is their environmental consciousness. They each do their part to make the planet a better place, whether that be through their work, the lives they lead, or both. During our meetings, no one is shy about speaking their minds and no topic is too politically sensitive to discuss. The word “climate change” flows like water.
However, as we shift our gaze from planning to presenting, I notice a change in the air. Suddenly our plan needs to focus solely on cost-savings, payback years, and potential grant funding. Everyone rallies around the idea of creating a slideshow that says ENERGY SAVINGS = $$ SAVINGS. The consensus appears to be forming as we discuss hammering the public with the dollar figures. Toward the end of this conversation, one of the members who has been quietly taking it all in pipes up. He says, “I hate to be the voice of opposition, but I think this money angle is the wrong way to go. Yes, the cost savings is important and should be highlighted, but what about doing these things to make Red Lodge a more livable, healthy community? Isn’t there value in protecting the planet for future generations? Shouldn’t we, as a town, want to make the world a more habitable place simply because it is the right thing to do? Does it really have to be all about the money?”
The task force members walked out of the meeting contemplating this question, as I often do at the end of the day. Does it really have to be all about the money? In our current political climate, it often feels like the safest option is to hide behind the economics and avoid the rest. I, like the task force, understand and appreciate the value of focusing on the money, but I often wish that it wasn’t the only conversation we were having.
Kathryn Eklund holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Anthropology from Eckerd College. Prior to Energy Corps, Kathryn worked for environmental consulting firms, conservation organizations, and in child development. Kathryn joined Energy Corps in October 2017 and will serve in the City of Red Lodge as a Sustainability Educator. She will assist them in reducing energy costs, improving their recycling program, and drafting carbon saving goals for the future. She will also monitor the impact of existing projects such as electric car charging stations and LED street lights.