During the past dozen years, differing beliefs have clashed on city council and among staff and commission members in Oberlin.
The most contentious difference is over the veracity of what climate scientists have concluded and what people have been culturally instructed to believe. Oberlin has chosen to transit to a climate positive community despite on-going conflicting worldview beliefs.
In the summer of 2007, council approved by a vote of 4-3 to enter into a 50-year contract for electricity from a to-be-built coal-fired power plant. In January 2008, the newly elected council led by David Sonner voted 4-3 to withdraw from the contract. This withdrawal exempted the city from payments for the money spent before the project was canceled two years later that would have amounted to about $3,000,000 expense to the city.
Immediately following the withdrawal, council asked the city manager to seek a carbon-neutral replacement for the city’s coal-based electricity. Despite continued requests to the city manager from council and Sonner, both in meetings and privately, a carbon-neutral replacement had not been identified after a year and a half.
In the early fall of 2009, Sonner in a regular council session publicly admonished the city manager. A motion was passed directing the city manager to prepare and send out an RFP to identify a carbon neutral replacement. Eventually an RFP went out. The city found a replacement in landfill gas.
These actions taken by a 4-3 majority on council in 2008 and 2009 were the watershed actions that made possible much of what Oberlin has accomplished to date in the arena of environmental sustainability:
• Meeting the city’s 2007 commitment as a city in the Local Governments for Sustainability “Cities for Climate Protection” program to achieve four of five goals, the final being reducing city’s heat-trapping-gas emissions by 80 to 100 percent.
• Partnership signed in 2010 between Clinton Foundation Climate Positive Development Program and the city and college as one of 18 projects around the world.
• City’s 90 percent carbon-neutral electricity portfolio.
• The Oberlin Project, a citywide collaboration fostered by Oberlin College, to create a replicable model where sustainability is the default setting.
Commitments to ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection and CFCPDP required the city to develop a Climate Action Plan.
The city used an Oberlin College student’s senior thesis for its baseline emissions inventory. OMLPS staff built upon the city’s baseline emissions and activities ongoing in the city to adopt emissions reductions targets and develop a CAP that came to council in the fall of 2011 for approval.
Councilman Bryan Burgess brought to the council’s attention a number of shortcomings in the CAP that he felt needed to be addressed before approval. A compromise was proposed that Burgess accepted. Council would unanimously approve the 2011 CAP without addressing the shortcomings identified by Burgess, and other members of the community, on the condition that the council would charge a Climate Action Committee to update the plan in 2012. The result was the city’s 2013 CAP that commits Oberlin to actions and standards necessary for it to meet its ICLEI and CFCPDP obligations.
Without Burgess’s objections to the 2011 CAP, it is unclear when a quality CAP would have been adopted. Without the creation of the 2013 CAP by about 50 citizens and city staff, progress toward sustainability would have been compromised because many things, including the following major accomplishments and recognitions, were dependent upon the 2013 CAP:
• City and college moved from candidate to participant status within the CFCPDP.
• The announcement from the White House in December 2014 that Oberlin was one of 16 local governments selected for the inaugural Climate Action Champions chosen for proactive steps to cut carbon pollution and prepare for the effects of climate change and extreme weather.
• The advancement of Oberlin in January to the semifinal round for the Georgetown University Energy Prize of $5 million as one of 50 communities leading the way on energy efficiency.
Scientific data establishes that climate chaos is here. Oberlin has chosen the right path, if humanity is to bequeath future generations desirable choices similar to those we currently enjoy.
It is time to aggressively pursue a climate positive future. We have a unique opportunity to transform Oberlin into a place where all activities and projects are given a variance for excellence.