Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Taking Power

Congratulations to Justice-Elect Janet Protasiewicz and to everyone who canvassed, called, wrote letters and postcards, donated, and voted. This can make a big difference. Michigan is our beacon. Minnesota is our model.

Now, we have to hope the results of the special election for the 8th Senate District don't give the power to impeach a foothold.

But, this post is about another kind of power--the power that fuels our vehicles, homes, businesses, manufacturing, and lives--and the power of people to change how we do things.

Last week, the Coulee Region Sierra Club (CRSC) hosted Al Buss, president of the Vernon County Energy District (VCED) board, in a talk about that group and its great work. It was a wonderful program that showed how, as Margaret Mead is supposed to have said, "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world."

Modeled after dustbowl-era Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Energy Districts, which started about a dozen years ago in Iowa, bring people together to change their own energy futures. VCED's county-wide goal is to electrify everything and produce all needed electricity locally from renewable sources.

It sounds like a huge, unobtainable goal, but here's where people-power shines, because when it's neighbors talking to neighbors, and it's broken down by household, by business, by farm, by village, it starts to look do-able. When the cost of not switching is understood--Vernon County sends about $10,000 per family per year in energy costs out of the county--it becomes a mandate. Local renewable energy efficiency and production saves money, supports local economies, reduces pollution and carbon emissions, and grows good jobs.

One of the most inspiring aspects of the energy districts is their grassroots organization. In Vernon County, a few residents learned about, and got support and advice from, the original energy district in Winneshiek County, Iowa. They formed a nonprofit and received an Energy Innovation planning grant from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. And, they started talking with people about envisioning a clean energy future.

Now, the powerful group consists of a volunteer board, a paid Executive Director, one staff person to help guide research, messaging, and planning, and three teams of volunteers.

As La Crosse begins working to complete the 250+ steps in its new climate action plan, we cannot just leave it up to city departments and grants. This has to be a community-wide effort and it can be a strong grassroots effort. There are dozens of strong, committed climate activists in our community who have been working toward and educating about changing our habits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for decades.

For example, we don't need a new city ordinance to start taking the bus, walking, and biking whenever we can to reduce transportation-related emissions, or to encourage our school or workplace to make clean transportation a priority by, say, rewarding green commuters or participating in the MTU works program.

But, we WILL need the city council to change budget priorities to discourage single-occupant drivers, by, for example,  charging more for parking, replacing unlimited free car storage on our streets with safe places to bike and walk, and funding and mandating more and better transit and bike/ped infrastructure. Grassroots action, individual and political, can make a difference.

Watch the Energy District program, visit the VCED sites (web, Facebook, YouTube), and consider what we could do to emulate their activism and success. Then, commit to take action to ensure our climate action plan makes a difference.

For more information email couleeprogressive (just one) at hotmail.


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