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South Bend Common Council meets to discuss environmental plans

| Thursday, February 28, 2019

Maria Paul Rangel | The Observer
Council members Broden and Voorde address attendees of the environment focused meeting at Council-City Building Wednesday.

University students, seventh-graders, bikers, professors, mothers and restaurant owners, different people with wildly different life stories, came together as a community in order to tackle a single issue that affected them all: climate change.

Enthusiasm filled the room as members of the South Bend community met at the Council-City Building on Wednesday evening with the South Bend Common Council in order to reconvene the conversation about climate change that began last week. In this particular meeting, however, the discussion centered not on the effects of climate change that were examined in the past week, but on the strategy that the city would implement as a result.

Council member Jo Broden opened the meeting by recognizing the strong presence of the younger generations, as children, adolescents and young adults represented the majority of the attendants. Gleefully, the youth and older community members gave a round of applause as they proudly donned their bright green “Climate Champions” stickers.

Broden said the meeting would consist on three parts: one where South Bend’s current actions would be explained, another where selected communities’ strategies would be displayed and one where the future actions to be taken in the city would be discussed.

Therese Dorau, director of the South Bend Office of Sustainability, said South Bend has already taken several efforts to become more sustainable, including the purchasing of hybrid and electric vehicles, the implementation of recycling programs, the education of city employees on sustainability, the Green Corps program and the push towards alternative forms of transportation.

“We have taken the first two of the four steps of the commitment. So our next step is to set our emissions target and make a plan to reach our reduction rate,” Dorau said.

The University of Notre Dame’s Office of Sustainability’s senior program director Allison Mihalich proceeded to showcase the strategy the institution had taken to combat climate change. Mihalich said Notre Dame’s strategy was founded on a Catholic mission pressed by Pope Francis that consisted on small groups focused on seven important areas: energy, water, construction, waste, food sourcing, education and communication. Through extensive research and cooperation with faculty, students, experts, the Utilities Department and Student Council, Notre Dame was well on its way of achieving its long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions by 83 percent from its 2005 baseline, presently managing to achieve a reduction of 67 percent from the 2005 baseline.

Dorau said two approaches towards climate change can be taken: one of mitigation, or preventing the issue, and another one of adaptation, or managing the effects. She said the most critical aspect moving forward is learning from other communities, an aspect whose importance she emphasized in order to reach a cost-effective solution tailored to South Bend’s conditions, capabilities and circumstances.

Afterwards, the floor was opened for attendants to share their comments with the council, an opportunity that students, businessmen and group leaders seized in order to voice their worries and to even propose a few actions the city should consider.

From placing composting bins along the city and planting trees to building greater infrastructure for biking and improving the South Bend Transpo system, several ideas were suggested at the meeting that demonstrated community members have for the environment. In the discussions, eminent importance was given to the role of education in tackling climate change.

“If ignorance is bliss, then knowledge is responsibility,” Theri Niemier, principal of Good Shepherd Montessori, said in reference to the need of education when solving environmental problems.

Though the issue discussed was certainly harrowing, the meeting concluded on a positive note. Broden and council members Jake Teshka and John Voorde said they are committed to making serious change for good.

“I am part of that generation that messed things up, and it’s incumbent on me to take responsibility for turning things around,“ Voorde said. “It wasn’t too long ago that I needed to be convinced that climate change was a problem as opposed to maybe a natural cycle of the climate … I think that everything we do has to be looked upon how does it affect the climate and the environment and what we can do now to incrementally do positive things.”

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