Behind a podium and in front of dozens of city officials from around Indiana, Purdue University Professor Jeff Dukes spoke about the dire environmental conditions Hoosiers are facing now and will face in the near future. He cited research indicating the new normal in Indiana, which will feature more extreme heat, more flooding and less fruitful harvests. Climate change, he said, is spurring the changes.
“This is real, and it’s affecting people now,” Dukes said. “It’s hurting Hoosiers, and this pattern is only going to continue and intensify over time, so we need to understand what’s going on and be ready for it.”
Dukes spoke to the audience as part of the Climate Leadership Summit, an annual statewide conference where city leaders across from across the state meet and discuss how to deal on a practical level with the results of a changing climate. The summit was organized by Earth Charter Indiana, an environmental advocacy group.
Jim Poyser, executive director of Earth Charter Indiana, says the summit is necessary to confront the changes people are experiencing every day.
“We decided to start this leadership summit because we didn’t feel like the climate conversation was happening enough,” Poyser said. “In Indiana there is not a lot of conversation publicly about climate change, and we feel like it is an urgent, essential issue to begin talking about.”
City leaders and representatives and concerned citizens from around the state listened to presentations from organizations and other city leaders who decided to tackle the effects of climate change.
Therese Dorau, director of sustainability for the City of South Bend, said the politics of “the C words” have made dealing with its repercussions a difficult topic to broach. She says she has adopted new ways of speaking about climate change to help communicate what needs to be done.
“I’ve really talked about sustainability as an investment in quality of life,” Dorau said. “Or if I was talking about a municipal sustainability project, I’d talk about it as cost efficiency or being lean in our operations. I try not to use the ‘C’ words, because that turns people off sometimes.”
Dorau and other city officials discussed how to make public policy and infrastructure changes that will help their constituents deal with the present and coming changes. Public policy and advocacy groups like Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute, the Purdue Climate Change Research Center and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Inc. provided tools and resources to train cities to keep up with the new challenges.
One of the resources unveiled at the summit was the Environmental Resilience Institute Toolkit, or ERIT, an interactive database that helps local governments stay informed about the effects of climate change, adaptation strategies, case studies and funding opportunities. Janet McCabe, the ERI’s assistant director of policy and implementation, says ERIT is especially useful because of its focus on problems specific to Indiana.
“Our website is focused on Indiana and the Midwest, but because it comes from the EPA, it covers the whole country,” McCabe said. “You can dial in ‘I am a midwestern mayor, and today I am interested in erosion.’ And you click and get a package of information that includes information about erosion, climate change and case studies from cities that have already tackled erosion issues and how they’ve done it.”
The Purdue Climate Change Research Center has released several reports that detail how climate change has modified several aspects of life in Indiana. The center studied how climate change will affect the weather, health, agriculture and several other topics. More studies will be released later this year and in early 2019.
Batesville High School junior Ciera Belter, 16, came to the summit to learn how she and other students can begin to make a difference in the world they will inherit. She says she’s disappointed in the people who ignore the warning signs of climate change.
“It just makes me feel kind of sad, because these people know what they doing isn’t good,” Belter said. “Doing things that are bad for the environment…obviously that’s not going to be beneficial to you in the future or to anybody else.”
Belter hopes that current leaders learn how to adapt to the changes while working to fix what caused climate change in the first place. She says if the generation in charge now doesn’t step up to the challenge, her generation will be ready to take charge.
“As youth we have an impact, and we’re able to make a change no matter what it seems like,” she said. “I would really like to see more people step up and want to take initiative because this is our planet we’re living on, and we have to take care of it.”
The Climate Leadership Summit also introduced city leaders to software used to complete greenhouse gas inventories in their cities, a canopy map to track urban green areas and a model website for cities planning to bring together municipal agencies for a sustainable future. The summit has also posted presentations online.