Coping with Climate Change Takes Everyone

Coping with Climate Change Takes Everyone

This article is the first of two covering the Sept. 30 Climate Action Conference, organized by Supervisor James Walkinshaw, Braddock District

“This is not a doom and gloom conference,” Supervisor James Walkinshaw announced in opening his first annual Climate Action Conference at Lake Braddock Secondary School on Sept. 30 to an audience of around 250.

Asserting that “the science is settled,” his goal was to give people the tools to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and save money, not to bemoan climate change’s harms. 

As the country set new records for high temperatures this past summer, Northern Virginians sweltered through a very hot July. The region’s average temperature has increased more than two degrees since the last century, reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Possible effects of climate change have been evident locally, nationally and around the world. 

In June, a smoky haze from Canada’s wildfires shrouded this region, causing many cancellations of outdoor events. Scientists say that climate change is spurring more intense wildfires as some areas become hotter and drier.

The May 2023 Potomac Conservancy’s report on the river’s condition concluded, “. . . we are already experiencing the impacts of a warming climate” in the region, and these impacts will worsen. Warmer atmospheric temperatures mean warmer water temperatures, which can adversely affect aquatic life and encourage algal blooms and bacteria growth.

Dr. Luis Ortiz from George Mason University said that “global climate changes are local problems. It’s already here.” Temperatures are warmer than they were 30 to 40 years ago. Severe storms and extended droughts are more frequent. 

U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly told attendees, “We can’t play games with climate change anymore. It’s real. It’s here.” 

Help Available

“Deploy, deploy, deploy” is the mantra of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), stressed the keynoter, Michael Forrester, a DOE official. Three federal laws provide tax credits, rebates or other assistance to encourage clean energy and energy conservation, policies that will reshape the private market and award Virginia up to $189 million.

For homes, “the best investment is insulation,” he argued, saying that most single-family homes need at least sixteen inches in the attic. “Your money is flying out of your doors and windows and through the roof.”

He also touted heat pumps as an “efficient investment. They don’t burn anything.” He recommended home energy audits and buying only Energy Star appliances. If appliances, like water heaters, are over ten to 15 years old, they will likely need to be replaced with more efficient models, he said, adding, “If you wait for a crisis, you’ll get whatever’s on the truck.”

“Know your numbers,” recommended John Morrill from the county’s Office of Energy and Environmental Coordination. County libraries lend thermal cameras to help detect home energy losses, he reported, and Dominion Energy and Washington Gas offer energy conservation programs.

Connolly touted his initiatives starting in 2003 when he was elected to the Board of Supervisors. He said that the county set a tree canopy goal of 45 percent and it is now at 57 percent. In 2022, Congress passed and he voted for the “largest ever environmental bill ever,” the Inflation Reduction Act and an infrastructure bill. 

Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck ticked off county efforts – the Fairfax Green Initiative, the Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), Resilient Fairfax and the Joint Environmental Task Force. 

The CECAP plan seeks energy carbon neutrality in local government operations by 2040. A second goal is carbon neutrality in the community from all sources by 2050, with at least an 87 percent reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions compared with 2005 levels. “It will be very difficult,” Storck said, adding, “We are making excellent progress.” 

County operations are responsible for only three to five percent of overall emissions, commented Andrea McGimsey, Executive Director of the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, which puts a major responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas pollution on everyone. “Collective action matters,” Connolly told the crowd.

Fairfax County for the last 20 years has been “on the leading edge” in reducing energy and emissions, said Board Chair Jeff McKay. He spotlighted new solar panels on the Woodlawn and Reston fire stations, saying they will bring “thousands of dollars in energy savings. More are in the pipeline. They will pay for themselves.” 

Mount Vernon resident Kem Clawson, dubbing himself and his wife Hillary as “climate action advocates,” applauded the action focus of the presentations. “You will be our messengers,” McKay challenged.

What Are Greenhouse Gases?

Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Carbon dioxide accounted for 79 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2021. 

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Energy efficiency, 

Carbon footprint calculator, 

Fairfax County resources,