Input from listening sessions last month will help shape Ohio’s first regional climate plan for five counties that include Cleveland and the surrounding metro area. Planners hope the sessions will also boost buy-in for actions to cut emissions and deal with climate change impacts.
A $1 million grant under the Inflation Reduction Act is funding the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency’s regional climate plan for Cuyahoga, Medina, Lake, Lorain and Geauga counties. As a congressionally designated metropolitan planning agency, NOACA deals with regional transportation and air and water quality issues, including how various federal funds are spent.
Cuyahoga County already has a climate action plan, as do the cities of Cleveland, its nearby suburb Lakewood, and the college town of Oberlin in Lorain County. However, NOACA’s plan for the five-county area will be key to unlocking a share of nearly $5 billion under the Inflation Reduction Act, said Grace Gallucci, NOACA’s executive director and CEO. “There are many, many kinds of projects we can do—anything from transportation projects to energy conservation to clean energy development.”
Yet while the climate change plan will be regional, different aspects may be tailored to particular parts of the region. “Our region is so broad,” Gallucci explained. “We have urban. We have suburban. We have rural. And there’s different ways to address climate change in those different communities.”
The plan will include a report on the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, the risks presented by climate change, options for reducing emissions and other actions to mitigate those risks and adaptation plans to improve resiliency, explained Joel Ratner, who heads the Joel Ratner Community Partnership, which NOACA engaged to consult on the process and lead community outreach sessions.
NOACA’s completed emissions inventory found greenhouse gas emissions from the five counties equivalent to nearly 36 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018, which is the baseline year for the plan, Ratner said. Of that amount, just over a quarter comes from each of the residential and transportation sectors, and roughly a fifth comes from each of the industrial energy and commercial sectors. Nearly two-thirds of the total for all greenhouse gas emissions comes from Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located and which has the largest population among the five counties.
Concerns, and Denials
At an Aug. 14 meeting at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ratner offered a brief overview of potential concerns about more frequent extreme weather and increased air and water pollution before attendees broke up into smaller groups. There, they talked about what changes they’ve noticed in climate, what impacts concern them, their preferences for ways to reduce people’s impact on the climate and their priorities for dealing with climate change impacts on people.
One woman noted that the basement at her daughter’s home in Avon “flooded a lot more than it ever did” from extreme rainstorms. High heat days worried another woman, who said neither she nor her mother have air conditioning at their homes.
Severe weather such as sudden storms and extreme heat also surfaced as fears for local farms, noted Aisia Jones, vice president of community outreach for Midtown Cleveland, who helped facilitate some of the discussions. A blueberry farmer in one group talked about how hotter weather has affected the family’s business.
Health problems were also high on people’s lists of concerns. “For me, the smoke this summer was something else,” said one man, referring to multi-day stretches of bad air quality from wildfire smoke in Canada. A woman in another group said her husband, who has lung disease, was housebound on days when air quality was bad.
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People at an Aug. 17 session at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland also noted other health concerns, including likely upticks in breathing ailments, increases in allergy problems and the potential for more insect-transmitted illness.
Worries about mental health and general quality of life also surfaced at both meetings. “Climate change terrifies me completely, which is why I’m coming, to try to change energy policy here in Ohio,” said Mark Bank, a Cleveland resident and law student at Cleveland State University, who was at the session.
“Thinking down the road to the life that my kids inherit” worried Jennifer McMillan, who heads sustainability programs for Cleveland State. Climate change will change society’s ability to meet people’s basic needs, which will likely lead to instability, she explained.
Concerns about equity also came out in the listening sessions.
“Climate change impacts different demographics differently, and there’s greater impacts on the poor, so there’s got to be some focus on the poor and coming up with equitable solutions,” said Peter Lawson Jones, a former Cuyahoga County commissioner who helped with small group discussions at the meetings.
Climate deniers showed up as well. “I think this is a bunch of leftist nonsense,” said Cleveland resident Ron Gray, adding that he recalls the weather being “pretty much the same” back in the 1950s. In a similar vein, a 71-year-old woman at the Aug. 14 session said she never noticed a change in the climate.
Data from Climate Central tell a different story. From 1970 to 2022, Cleveland added an average of 14 more days above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Average annual precipitation from 1991 to 2020 was nearly 5 percent more than that for 1981 to 2010, with the greatest increase in the summer. The intensity of rainfall in Cleveland, measured by the average annual hourly amounts, also went up from 1970 to 2021.
Others challenging the existence of climate change argued about other pollution problems. One man mentioned nutrient runoff from farms that feeds harmful algae blooms, although heavier rainfall can flush more fertilizer into lakes and waterways. Doubts also surfaced about whether other countries such as China or India would take appropriate action to deal with climate change.
Gallucci said it wasn’t unusual for dissenters to attend meetings. And while they might not be won over, she urges planners in other areas to nonetheless engage with the communities they serve. “You have to talk to folks who maybe don’t know what climate change is, how it impacts different parts of their lives, and then what they can do about it,” she said.
“At the end of the day, the only way to get to carbon zero is to get people to change their behavior,” Gallucci added. “And to get people to change their behavior, I think it’s really important to get them involved in that process and to help develop that solution.”
Ratner’s group will compile input from those meetings and additional listening sessions held on Aug. 15, 22, 23 and 24 for NOACA to use as it prepares the climate action plan. Interested residents also can comment online.
Participants who provided email addresses will receive a draft of the plan later this fall, Ratner said. The current timeline calls for finalizing the plan in late winter.