PennEnvironment in Chester County: One climate defender at a time
By Richard Gaw
Jess Cadorette, the Chester County volunteer coordinator for PennEnvironment's efforts in the county, sat at a coffee shop in West Chester on a recent Friday, at the end of a week where she had already been everywhere.
The extra-large strawberry beverage she enjoyed was merely a brief respite in a whirlwind tour of the county. Earlier that week, she conducted volunteer education with a few of PennEnvironment’s more than 400 volunteer citizens in the county – called “climate defenders.” She met with colleagues in the environmental industry, and she arranged meet-and-greets between elected officials and volunteers. In between, she continued to put the finishing touches on the upcoming “Chester County 100% Renewable Energy Expo & Discussion,” which will be held March 30 at West Whiteland Township in Exton, and co-hosted by PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club of Chester County.
For Cadorette, who has been with the PennEnvironment for the past two years, it's a job marked by miles, advocacy and patience – from Oxford to Nottingham, from Kennett Square to East and West Whiteland townships, and from restaurants to community fairs to information table shows, all in an effort to ratchet up citizens' voices in support of science and the need for expediency, she said.
“During these two years, I've been able to cultivate this incredible network of people who have worked for the transition away from dirty fossil fuel to 100 percent renewable energy,” she said. “That is our main focus, because the science is clear. In the face of the federal inaction, we've seen on climate control and the rolling back the critical protections we have to mitigate the problem. We're mobilizing efforts to push our county commissioners, our state representatives and our senators to support policies that help our communities move toward renewable energy.”
Since its beginning 15 years ago, PennEnvironment, one of 29 state-based environmental organizations linked to Environment America, is a people-powered environmental advocacy organization, whose climate defenders and supporters canvas the state raising awareness of environmental issues and promoting sensible solutions. They write letters to newspaper editors and meet with reporters; visit neighborhoods; write op-ed pieces; hold news conferences; distribute scientific evidence of climate change; recruit new supporters and activists; attend rallies and stuff envelopes; and secure funding to keep the mission going. Last summer, the organization sponsored a well-attended clean energy consortium at West Chester University.
Locally, PennEnvironment has met with State Sen. Andrew Dinniman; Reps. Christina Sappey, Carolyn Comitta and Melissa Shusterman; U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan; the Chester County Planning Commission; and the Chester County Commissioners Terence Farrell, Michelle Kichline and Kathi Cozzone. PennEnviroment is also working with the Commissioners to enact a grant program, in order to incorporate renewable energy projects within municipalities around the county.
“The county doesn't run the energy grid, so they see renewable energy as something they may not have much authority on, but we're in the camp of helping them provide resources, and be an advocate for renewable energy,” Cadorette said.
Lately, however, these county-wide strides are being made against the backdrop of voices who continue to deny that climate change exists. Heading the opposition is President Trump, who has publicly stated that he does not believe that climate change exists, despite his own administration's release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in Nov. 2017, that detailed the conclusions of more than 300 scientists who believe that the planet is getting warmer, human activity is contributing to that warming, and stated that climate change threatens “the health and well-being of the American people.”
The report also put the evidence of climate change on a time clock, stating that changes will become more pronounced by the middle of the century, and that by the end of the century, the environment will become increasingly vulnerable.
Despite the facts and figures outlined in the report, the Trump administration's rollback of a wide variety of environmental regulations has been staggering. The Environmental Integrity Project cites the administration for targeting almost 80 environmental rules to control greenhouse gas emissions, coal ash waste, and water and air pollution.
Moreover, Trump’s “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth” directs that “the heads of agencies shall review all existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.”
While the battle over the environment rages on in Washington and in the national conversation, Cadorette said that close to home, speaking with climate change deniers is a routine component of her job, but it's never one that leads to argument. Rather, it's an excuse to have a conversation that hears both sides of an issue, she said.
“It's about finding common ground,” she said. “Many times, it's finding the same denominator in the equation, such as approaching it from the standpoint of climate change on future generations. We are a non-partisan environmental organization, and we're fighting for the environment.”
Chester County has already climbed on board the renewable energy train. On March 19, Schuylkill Township became the seventh county municipality to sign a resolution that commits the township to providing 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The initiative is at the root of a concept called “Ready for 100” that is being launched by the Sierra Club -- and supported by PennEnvironment -- to encourage local and township officials to announce a long-term ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals in their jurisdictions, by enacting measurable goals and plans.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Group (SPG), part of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, is focused on the environmental issues facing the greater Philadelphia area. Sierra Club volunteers from Philadelphia, Delaware, Chester, Montgomery and Bucks counties are working together to maintain, improve and protect the natural resources of the area.
While achieving 100 percent renewable energy from township to township by 2050 is a lofty goal, Cadorette lifted her cell phone and her laptop computer from the restaurant table.
“Were either of these here 30 years ago, in their current forms?” she asked. “This is the crisis of our time. Obviously, all of us are concerned about discrimination, immigration and healthcare to name just a few issues, but if we don't have a planet, we cannot continue to fight these other issues, not to mention that climate change will greatly affect marginalized groups in the coming decades."
She pointed to recent polls that said seven out of 10 people support transitioning to renewable energy sources.
“Sure, there are people who will continue to deny the science, but it is wildly uplifting to watch this movement become mainstream, when a decade ago, no one was thinking that 100 percent was feasible, at all,” Cadorette said. “We have the technology. We have the people behind it. We just need the political will, and that's where we come in, to pressure the legislators to enact sound, environmental legislation, so eventually, the outliers will become a part of the past.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following organizations provide volunteer opportunities for Chester County residents:
PennEnvironment: www.pennenvironment.org. Access PennEnvironment’s Mobile Action Network to stay updated about upcoming environmental actions and events by texting "PA Climate" to the number 21333
Chester County Conservation District: www.chesco.org/205/Conservation-District
Chester County Environmental Alliance: https://chescoenvt.org
Sierra Club of Chester County: www.sierraclub.org/pennsylvania/southeastern/chester-county
Chesco 100% Renewable Energy Expo & Discussion
March 30, 12 p.m. - 4 p.m.
West Whiteland Township
101 Commerce Drive, Exton, Pa.
Hosted by Penn Environment and Sierra Club of Chester County.
100% Renewable Energy PA Lobby Day 2019
June 19, 2019
The Pennsylvania State Capitol
501 N 3rd St.
Climate defenders will visit Harrisburg to advocate for bipartisan legislation that will transition Pennsylvania to 100 percent renewable energy. Transportation will be provided.
Renewable Energy Sources
• Wind: Energy is captured by wind turbines and turned into electricity.
• Geothermal: The earth’s heat can generate electricity and contribute to heating and cooling buildings.
• Hydroelectric: Dams use water to power turbines that generate electricity.
• Solar: We’ve all seen solar panels that collect solar energy and turn it into electricity.
• Biomass: Burning plants, woods, and wood wastes produces electricity in a variety of means.
• Hydrogen: It can be burned as fuel or converted to electricity and is the most abundant element on earth.
• Ocean: Tides and waves can be used to generate electricity.