This weekend, my son and I hiked through old growth forest at California Woods Nature Preserve. We were delighted to see native spring wildflowers in bloom. Our guide pointed out how many more there were in areas where volunteers had removed the honeysuckle. Honeysuckle leafs out early, blocking early spring sunlight from reaching the forest floor and the flowers sleeping underground. While we glanced back and forth between the flowering side of the trail and the honeysuckle-covered side, she was quick to give us reason to hope. “Don’t worry; you’d be surprised by how quickly the flowers come back once we clear the honeysuckle.” These tiny flowers hold out hope for the time when sunlight will wake them up again.
It’s not an accident that Earth Day (April 22) is celebrated at the height of spring. As the flowers, new leaves and singing birds catch our attention, we start to notice what is going on in the natural world. All that color and chirping aside, it is hard to go a day without hearing about the challenges facing us this Earth Day – pollution’s effects on people and ecosystems, the prognosis of accelerating climate change, our narrowing window to curb it. And yet I hope. Unlike denial, hope does not seek to ignore or discredit the challenges before it. It learns about them and searches for solutions, adaptations and undiscovered angles where a creative foothold might lead to innovation that will crack the problem open.
From my lookout as executive director of Green Umbrella, our region’s environmental sustainability alliance, I get to see the amazing work that is happening, and what is being put into motion. Greater Cincinnati is full of businesses, organizations, schools, individuals and public agencies intent on transforming our region into a place known for its green. Not just its amazing greenspace and waterways, but its systems, policies and programs that help residents, municipalities and businesses decrease their contribution to climate change and improve the health of our region.
Just a few months ago, Green Umbrella launched the Cincinnati 2030 District, a collaborative effort for owners and managers of large buildings to halve their carbon footprint by 2030. Already, 22 members have committed over 20 million square feet to meeting the goals of the district; that makes us the 7th largest 2030 District in the nation!
We’re now hard at work helping members identify innovative solutions that will reduce emissions from energy, water and transportation. Our city is choosing to act now, while we still have a chance to head off some of the worst impacts of climate change. The existence of the 2030 District gives me hope. It was formed by a dedicated and inclusive group of volunteers who developed the expertise, research, connections and messaging to get the initiative off the ground. It has been embraced by city government, major businesses and education and cultural institutions as a way to take bold action.
You don’t have to be a giant property owner to have a big impact. There is something everyone can do to help our region reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and be a better place to live. Your great idea could be the next big thing that accelerates Cincinnati’s sustainability.
If you’re looking for ways to make a change at work or in your neighborhood, the Midwest Regional Sustainability Summit on June 14 will introduce you to best practices being implemented across the Midwest. It’s also a great chance to connect with one of Green Umbrella’s seven Action Teams, groups of volunteers from organizations of all types, who work collaboratively to tackle big environmental problems.
On a personal level, there are organizations and agencies in every county waiting to answer your questions or connect you with an opportunity to volunteer. You can be the one who frees another patch of wildflowers while they are still holding out hope.
Ryan Mooney-Bullock is executive director of Green Umbrella, grew up playing in the creeks and woods of Greater Cincinnati and now explores them with whoever will tag along.
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