District 12 to explore becoming part of global movement that encourages energy independence and greater community resilience

By Michael Russelle

The impacts of global climate change are stunning. They fill the news. According to climatologist and meteorologist Mark Seeley, “For those who doubt or wish to dismiss the evidence that climate is changing, please consider that Minnesota data (measurements in our own backyards) indicate it is happening and already resulting in consequences. As responsible citizens, it is clearly poor judgment to ignore this.”

In response, the St. Anthony Park Community Council is planning to explore with District 12 residents and businesses whether the district should become part of the global Transition Town movement. The council will host a series of meetings, films and speakers in the new year to investigate ways to decrease our energy use, CO2 emissions and broader environmental footprints.

The first meeting of the series, on Thursday, Jan. 17, will focus on coalescing the work of groups and individuals already engaging in sustainability and community-building efforts. The meeting will be held at St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church, 2200 Hillside Ave., from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Subsequent meetings are being planned and the schedule will be published in upcoming issues of the Bugle.

Among the questions the council will ask are: What does it mean to “live the good life” when the human footprint on the environment is so damaging? And how can we make big and small improvements in the way we live, while preserving and enhancing the character and beauty of our neighborhoods?

The community has taken some action toward decreasing our energy use. About 250 homes in the district have had Home Energy Audits recently, and we see evidence of change with the growing popularity of bicycles, gardening, solar hot water and electrical systems, improved home insulation and upgraded windows.

Businesses and organizations have taken part too.

“Being thoughtful about how we can be better stewards of scarce resources just makes good sense for all of us,” said Steve Wellington, St. Anthony Park resident and president of Wellington Management Inc., which owns and manages 90 commercial properties in the Twin Cities.

“We certainly know the value of energy-efficient lighting, the savings we can achieve from modern boilers, and the virtues of district heating and cooling systems.”

Wellington has installed solar panels on three of its nearby properties and is using a geothermal heating-and-cooling system at a property in Minneapolis.

Tim Wulling, a member of the council’s Environment Committee, said technology alone won’t solve our climate-change issues. “We need to change some of the ways we live so that we curtail our use of fossil fuels. This will take a cooperative effort, and we’ll find it makes a stronger and more resilient community.”

State Rep. Alice Hausman agreed: “Working together as a community provides the opportunity to encourage one another to do more,” she said. “We know what we want for our future. We even know how to get there, but change isn’t easy. Transition Town provides a framework.”

The Transition Town movement began in the United Kingdom in response to the threats of “peak oil” (the point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached and the rate of oil production begins to rapidly decline), global climate change and a fragile economy. The movement has spread to more than 400 communities in 34 countries.

The key idea is that a neighborhood, town or city develops a comprehensive vision of a more sustainable future and then develops a roadmap for realizing the vision. Inherent in the planning is that change requires significantly lower use of limited and polluting energy sources and increased local economic stability and vitality.

Is the community ready to take larger steps? After being hit by Hurricane Sandy in late October, communities with their own utilities bounced back more quickly than areas dependent on the large energy utilities.

More comprehensive planning could provide greater resilience to catastrophic events and enhance broader development. A notable example of such a planning document was produced for the city of Bloomington, Ind. You can find it at bloomington.in.gov/peakoil.

The scope of the activity needed to become a more resilient community was made clear by Jon Commers, a Metropolitan Council member representing St. Paul west of 35E: “Addressing climate change demands we make changes broader than we’re used to,” he said. “Think of all the interrelated priorities we need to pursue: deep cuts in carbon emissions, strong local business, a range of housing choices, a more complete transit network, adjustment to an older community, to name a few.”

The community council’s Green on the Screen group will host two showings of the movie In Transition 2.0 in January. The movie, which showcases how Transition Towns around the world have begun realizing their visions, will be shown on Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 7 p.m. at South St. Anthony Recreation Center (now Joy of the People), 890 Cromwell Ave., and on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 12:30 p.m. at the St. Anthony Park library, 2245 Como Ave.

Find out more about the Transition Town movement at www.transitionnetwork.org.

Michael Russelle is a member of the District 12 Energy Resilience Group and Environment Committee.

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