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These are the women behind McCall’s Climate Action Plan

Michelle Groenevelt (upper right) is community and economic director at McCall. Meredith Todd (lower right) is assistant city planner at McCall.
Michelle Groenevelt, Meredith Todd, George Prentice
Michelle Groenevelt (upper right) is community and economic director at McCall. Meredith Todd (lower right) is assistant city planner at McCall.

When you go big, quite often you have to start small … or at least modest.

“Everybody in McCall seems to drive a Subaru. Think about driving six or seven times from San Francisco to Atlanta in a Subaru Outback,” said Meredith Todd, assistant city planner at McCall. “That would be the equivalent of what we’re doing by getting an electric [instead of a gas] mower.”

Todd and Michelle Groenevelt, the McCall Community and Economic Director, penciled out the savings and convinced the McCall City Council to shift some of the city’s equipment away from gas power. It’s not huge, but it’s representative of a much, much bigger initiative: McCall’s newly approved Climate Action Plan.

“I think we have a great reason to pursue this as a holistic, broad umbrella to follow, rather than something that sits off in a corner that we think of when it’s convenient,” said Groenevelt.

They both joined Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the Climate Action Plan, the importance of it being in sync with city planning and, yes, lawnmowers.

“We really are interested in ensuring that when our council makes decisions, they're considering the sustainability and that we have climate action plan embedded in our comprehensive plan and all the decision making that occurs.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. We're going to spend some time this morning talking about sustainability and climate action and the importance of codifying that in a community. And we're going to turn our focus to McCall. Michelle Groenevelt returns to our program. She is the community and economic development director at McCall. Michelle, good morning.

MICHELLE GROENEVELT: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: Meredith Todd is also here, assistant city planner at McCall. Meredith. Good morning.

MEREDITH TODD: Good morning.

PRENTICE: I'd like you both to do your best on this and help us in distinguishing a community's holistic plan, if you will. The bigger plan and where a climate action plan might fit in and how important it is to connect those dots. Michelle, can you start us off?

GROENEVELT: Sure, George. Well, first off, I think our community defined its vision starting in 2007 and has reaffirmed it several times. So, the vision statement for McCall is that we're going to be a diverse small town. We want to be safe, clean, healthy, and attractive environment, but we also want to be friendly, progressive and make sure that it's affordable and sustainable. So really what we're focused on this morning and with our city council is the sustainability piece. We really are interested in ensuring that when our council makes decisions, they're considering the sustainability and that we have climate action plan embedded in our comprehensive plan and all the decision making that occurs.

TODD: Yeah, I think that when I was reviewing our comprehensive plan, taking a big giant look at what the sustainability mean to our community, I was looking at it from like the definition of sustainability in general, where it's made of the economic pillar, the social pillar, the environmental pillar and the human experience. And looking at our plan, we have a lot of those goals kind of broadly stated, but that the small piece or the big piece, depending how you look at it that is missing in our community planning document is really a guiding map on how to deal with climate change and how to address that as a community. And that falls into that that big environmental pillar. And so now it's time to open the conversation of how to address that whole pillar. And climate change is one part of it that's going to be affecting our community, if not already is.

PRENTICE: I'd like to talk a little bit more about connecting those dots because I think more than a few communities are proud to say that they're either working on climate action plans or have put together climate action plans, but they're, well, almost silos, if you will. And there's a risk if it's not in sync with the bigger holistic plan, right?

TODD: I think so, absolutely. I think we set out a great opportunity of incorporating it city wide, organization wide, community wide. Just having the example of looking at other Idaho or mountain communities when they go about their sustainability or climate action planning, I think we have a great reason to pursue this as a holistic, broad umbrella to follow rather than something that sits off in a corner that we think of when it's convenient.

PRENTICE: Michelle This is a really big deal. Can I assume that this is if it's not the talk of the town, it will be soon.

GROENEVELT: Well, we hope so. And we really want to make sure that our decision makers, as well as our community, are considering climate action planning and the sustainability pillars when we're implementing projects, programs, policies. So I think that's a big shift for the city of McCall is when we bring proposals to our decision makers, we won't just be looking at the financial impacts. We'll also be looking at these other factors.

PRENTICE: And to be clear, this is a political there are more than a few people, including some here in Idaho, who get their dander up when they hear the words climate action. But there is no politics in any of this.

TODD: I reflect a lot on when I was focusing on my college research just entirely around grappling with what is climate change and how does it work. It's like, that's a huge question that I think oftentimes doesn't quite get answered when it boils into a political conversation. So when I was taking a big strong look at this and how to bring it forward to our city council as a regular conversation and giving them really a framework to conceptualize it, it was really a matter of what's that like X and Y graph where there's something that's causing a problem and how do we address it from that very, very basic standpoint. And that was really looking at the greenhouse gas emissions inventory of our city and speaking in terms of there are these particles floating into the air due to our actions and we can change those things to create a different version of the future and making it super-duper simple rather than turning it automatically into a big giant debate over the what and the how and the who and the when. I think that that creates a good opportunity to have productive conversation if that makes sense.

PRENTICE: Mm hmm. Can you talk about a real-world example? I know one of the early examples that you put in front of council involved no less than lawn mowers over at the public golf course.

TODD: Yeah, absolutely. So, we had a great opportunity to give them a small example in our city operations and a choice to move forward with our golf course. Greens lawn mowers, which are just four of, I think about seven of our lawn mowers. And we traditionally use a gas-powered lawn mower that makes noise and keeps the greens nice and clear and runs on gasoline. And we were offered an opportunity to look at the costs of an electric mower. So, my job in analyzing that was seeing what kind of energy demands does the lawn mower need? Do we have the capacity to to create that energy plugging in the lawn mowers? How much money can we save on gasoline? And then my favorite question is always how much greenhouse gas emissions can we mitigate by making this choice and bringing that to the table on equal footing with the economic factors? Because most of the time we look at dollars and we forget to look at like if carbon were a dollar or greenhouse gases were a dollar, what are we expending in terms of the environment? So, I kind of brought that forward as the example where they waited with the economic decision in the matter. And I think it it was a great small example of how to make a choice based on the environment.

PRENTICE: And over a season it's metric tons, right? It's rather jaw dropping.

TODD: Yes. Over season, I think we can hope to mitigate. We're aiming for between, I believe, six and seven metric tons of carbon, which I gave them the fun. Everybody in McCall seems to drive a Subaru. Think about driving six or seven times from San Francisco to Atlanta in a Subaru outback. That would be the equivalent of what we're  doing by getting an electric [instead of a gas] mower.

PRENTICE: Michelle, can you and I talk behind Meredith's back for a moment? Well, one of our favorite things on this program was when we came to McCall and we spent some time at the McCall Outdoor Science School, which I think Meredith is a graduate of, and all of the extra resources that come from that and what Meredith is bringing to the city. It's unlike the McCall that I was familiar with, you know, ten, 15, 20 years ago.

GROENEVELT: I agree. I mean, I think we have a great partnership with the mosque program at the University of Idaho. And there's some really talented students that come out of that program. And we've at the city of McCall have had a number of those students as interns before, and we often work with them on different research projects. So we're really happy to have that resource in our community as well as we're also really excited when a few of them stick around within the McCall community after they graduate because they really do add to our workforce and provide that perspective.

PRENTICE: And Meredith, you were a climate action intern for the city.

TODD: Yes, I was briefly it was kind of a tiny moment where then a job opened up and I said, Oh, I'll just do that and loop it all in there and sneak my nice little climate agenda onto my workload.

PRENTICE: And you used to work over at Bogus, right? Recycling coordinator. Coordination.

TODD: I did. I did. That was kind of my year after graduating undergrad, right before the pandemic started, where he said, I'm on a ski mountain and we're not recycling right now. I'm just going to take this over and make it happen. And like, thankfully, it's continued since I left. So, I think that that was just a matter of looking at every job I've ever had and saying, this can be a climate job. Can what do I do?

PRENTICE: It can wonder, both of you help me with some terminology which is bounced around an awful lot and that is net zero targets or real zero targets. Can either of you help me with that? Because we hear that term a lot.

TODD: Yeah. So I think that when you're thinking of net zero or reel zero, it's the same thing as thinking of an economic budget. I'm going to reflect on that a lot. But when you're thinking of net zero, that's a quantity where there's still greenhouse gas emissions or or carbon dioxide equivalent being emitted into the atmosphere somewhere based on what we do. But you can account for those emissions in some way by, for example, buying carbon offsets. So sometimes if you go on to some of your apps, you'll see that in the fine print, some company is offsetting the emissions of your purchase if you make a purchase online. And that means they're either investing in planting trees in a certain place or preserving conserving forested areas, or any number of different methods to sell people carbon to make up for their emissions. But that doesn't mean that the emissions have stopped. It doesn't mean that we're reaching the point where maybe we can slow down global warming. And then when you think of real zero, that's that point that a lot of climate scientists or climate planners call drawdown, where we go from putting more emissions into the atmosphere to starting to pull down that total amount of carbon dioxide equivalent in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And we start to finally see that temperature from the warming environment start to tick down. So there's a goal in the scientific community of reaching, I believe, net zero by 2050. And I think the United States is probably pretty close to vocalizing that goal. And then there's the ultimate goal of reaching real zero by around 2070, if possible, mostly to to reach that like 1.5 Celsius or two degrees Celsius warming limit. That is really, really important to be mindful of.

PRENTICE: Michel I'm always interested in process, So can you give us a sense of of where you are as far as community conversations? What does 2023 look like for some of these initiatives?

GROENEVELT: Yeah, so we're actually planning on updating our comprehensive plan. And within that process, we plan to add some very specific climate action planning efforts into that, the public outreach as well as the policy documents. So we're really looking forward to having that embedded in the next version of our McCall area. Comprehensive plan.

PRENTICE: Is that an event that will take place next year or does that take place over a couple of years?

GROENEVELT: So, we're planning on kicking that off in probably October of next year.

PRENTICE: Got it. And does something. How long does something like that take?

GROENEVELT: We're hoping that it takes about one year because we're planning on doing an update and not a total rewrite. So, I would say anywhere from 12 months to 18 months.

PRENTICE: In the meantime, there are all these other modest gains, right? I mean, this example with the lawn mowers is one of them. And it's not as if you can't work on all of this from the edges.

GROENEVELT: Absolutely. We plan on using the framework that we use for the electric lawnmowers in the decision-making process as we move forward. So we've talked about it internally and for major decisions. We will have this climate action sustainability analysis done as part of what we present to the Council. And I think one of the things to keep in mind too, is that while we're looking at carbon and a number of other things, we're also looking at the secondary impacts. So as Meredith mentioned, when we talk about environmental, social, economic, we want to make sure we're considering all of those things when we make decisions. And the lawnmower is a great example because we also have to think about the health of our employees in terms of how the sound and the gas fumes affects the health of our employees. So I think it is a much more holistic approach to decision making, and we're looking forward to this new framework.

PRENTICE: And so, you get a chance to reconsider leases and equipment needs to be replaced. And I'm guessing that with this this template, if you will, it's an entirely new and better lens to look through.

GROENEVELT: We think so. And it sounds like the council's pretty excited about looking through that lens a little differently moving forward.

PRENTICE: Well, great. Good luck on all of this. Michelle Groeneveld is the community and economic development director for the City of McCall. Meredith Todd is assistant city planner at McCall. And it sounds as if their inboxes are filled on a regular basis. So we are more than fortunate to get a few minutes with them this morning. And for that, thank you so very much.

GROENEVELT: Thank you so much, George

TODD: Thanks George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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