Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. will meet with 20 high school students from around the county Monday evening to discuss climate change and climate mitigation strategies. The group will contribute to the county’s still-developing Climate Action Plan.
“The voices of our young people are very important. They’re among the loudest, and I think that’s no surprise … in many ways, it’s the most important, and they’re the ones who are most impacted by our action, or lack of action,” Olszewski said.
The working group will meet for the first time at 6 p.m. Monday in the Historic Courthouse Building. Students in Baltimore County and around Maryland participated in the Youth Climate Strike in September; Olszewski said he wanted to meet with students so their energy can be turned into tangible, local outcomes.
Stephen Lafferty, Baltimore County’s first chief sustainability officer, is tasked with developing the climate plan. He said he hopes to have a draft of the plan complete by mid-2020. He said it was Baltimore County Public Schools staff that helped the executive’s office invite 20 students to be a part of the youth working group.
“The intent is not to have a come together, feel good, tell me your problems. It’s really, how do we better understand the issues of concern for [the young people], and will you help us craft some recommendations,” Lafferty said.
The group will meet more than once, Lafferty said, but the frequency of the meetings will more or less be determined by what the students think is best. He said he might ask the group to come back together in January, after the holidays.
It is largely accepted that it is not possible to pinpoint climate change as the cause of any single weather event, like a storm or an unusually hot day. Baltimore County is, however, already seeing some changes in longer-term weather patterns that could be attributed to global climate change.
Last year was Maryland’s wettest on record, and some local organizers are already starting to rethink how annual festivals are scheduled and planned to deal with wetter conditions. Olszewski specifically highlighted local flooding as an area of concern when it comes to addressing climate in the county, both in the Patapsco area to the southwest and the shorelines on the county’s eastern side.
While Lafferty and others assemble an action plan, Olszewski said the county is already taking some steps to reduce its overall carbon footprint and act more sustainably. The county is looking at ways to install more solar panels on county-owned land and determining how to better capture and convert methane gas that is released from the county landfill, for example.
Olszewski said it was important for the county to “lead by example” and show that the local government is taking steps to address climate change before asking residents to make significant changes to their lives. The climate action plan could be “iterative,” he said, with the first step looking at how the government can perform more sustainably, and the second looking at the county overall.
Olszewski, 37, said dealing with climate change is important to him for personal reasons, as well.
“I see the future of the county and this world through the eyes of my daughter, who just turned 4. Not just what kind of county, but what kind of world we are leaving her, [and] leaving our young people,” he said.