Planet Carroll brings discussion on sustainability, climate change to local level
By Carrie Ann Knauer Times Staff Writer
Apr 16, 2012 | 3:00 AM
When the coordinators of Planet Carroll look back on the reasons why they wanted to hold an environmental conference on Earth Day weekend, they have to give some credit to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners.
The seed of the idea was planted after some Carroll residents attended the board's forum, "PlanMaryland: At the Crossroads, Technical & Economic Premises Forum and Panel Discussion." The event, held at the Hilton in Pikesville on Halloween, featured five presenters who disputed the environmental and economic information in PlanMaryland, including a number of widely-held scientific theories such as global warming and rising sea levels.
"The perspective that the commissioners have put forth is so extreme that it's kind of driven a response," said Chris Spaur, a Planet Carroll member who also serves on the Carroll County Environmental Advisory Council. "It generated a sense of urgency."
Don West and Dan Andrews, two of the founders of Waste Not! Carroll and Sustainable Living Maryland, said they went to the forum as interested residents who wanted to hear the arguments that were shaping the county commissioners' policies and actions, and found that they disagreed with much of the information that was presented.
Other residents, such as Claudia Lewis, were unable to attend the forum, due to a limited number of seats, which were sold for $25, being made available for the public versus invited guests.
Members of Carroll's environmental community met in November and Planet Carroll was formed, with representatives from McDaniel College, Carroll Community College and the EAC on board.
"I'm very proud of the way this evolved into a group of educators, environmentalists, students, people in and out of government - it runs the gamut across the community of all ages and all backgrounds," West said. "The broad base of support has been important."
The group has coordinated an event for every day from Monday through April 22, Earth Day, with an art show, movie screenings, a concert, a tree planting and informational fairs.
But the pinnacle of the week will be Saturday, West said, with the keynote address and panel discussion that will be held at Decker Auditorium at McDaniel College in Westminster.
Saturday's event will take some of the topics that were covered at the PlanMaryland conference in October and give the other side, he said, from local speakers who are nationally known for their expertise in this area.
The first panel discussion is labeled "Why Sustainability is Important to You" and will feature Ned Tillman, co-founder of Sustainable Growth, LLC; Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland; Richard Josephson, director of planning for Maryland; Nelson Widell, co-founder of Peninsula Compost Group, LLC; and Joseph Wright, a student from McDaniel College.
The second panel, "Climate Change, Extreme Weather Events, and Ecosystems," will feature Don Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Michael Barbour, director of Tetra Tech Ecological Sciences; Mona Becker, acting director of the environmental studies department at McDaniel College; and Eric Kazyak, a student from University of Maryland, College Park.
While these are big issues, the program is designed to make them relevant to ordinary people, Andrews said.
"This is an attempt to have people that live in Carroll County begin to understand our role on these specific environmental issues, that we are not an isolated unit," he said.
Planet Carroll member Karen Moody, an environmental science teacher at CCC, said there will also be time after the panel discussions for audience members to submit questions for the panelists. The goal is to clarify information on these issues, she said, and have people walk away with a better understanding of the topics.
The group had considered inviting some of the commissioners' speakers, such as Lord Christopher Monckton, a British global warming-denier, but decided against it.
"There was a conscious effort to make it non-confrontational," West said.
While there is the desire to present balanced arguments on complex topics such as global warming, West said the group thought it was more important to hear scientists who have worked for years on this topic, versus non-scientists who are just presenting theories without credible science to back them up.
"We like to have the balance, the A versus the B, the unfortunate thing is when taken to its extreme, it allows sometimes for some pretty cockamamie ideas to be put on an equal footing with something else," West said. "When you give somebody the opportunity to share that platform, it elevates that side of the discussion to the same plane, and that's not always what you want."
Lewis said Planet Carroll is hoping to attract a diverse audience, not just other environmentalists.
"There are a lot of serious things facing not just Carroll County in general," Lewis said. "We need to talk about them, not be polarized. It's time for consensus building."
The county commissioners and town officials have all been invited to the summit, Becker said, but so far there has been little response.
Calls to Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, and Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, were not returned by 5 p.m. Friday.
Regardless of how many dignitaries show up, Lewis said she's heard from a lot of residents that they are interested in attending.
"The support has been really good from the community, people are saying 'how great that you're doing that,'" she said.
Planet Carroll member and former county sustainability director Neil Ridgely said he knows there is some skepticism in Carroll over environmental issues, but he still encourages people to attend the event with an open mind.
"We're going to have the presenters give their side of the story on land use and global warming," Ridgely said. "What if they're wrong, what's the worst that can come of it - we end up with a better planet?"