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Mother Earth

By Brian Blair | The R epublic

Richard Boyce is as straightforward as a hurricane about getting a handle on environmental issues locally.

“There is no Planet B,” Boyce said, using a play on words. “If we don’t get this right, everyone suffers. … The Western United States right now is in the midst of a drought that it hasn’t seen for the last 1,200 years. We certainly should be concerned about that.”

He is chairman of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus’ Environmental Action Team — one that recently organized an awareness-oriented concert linked to environmental responsibility and stewardship with Ohio-based activist singer Terry Hermsen. The event featured a variety of other groups and agencies talking about their efforts under that umbrella.

Those groups ranged from Energy Matters Community Coalition to the Winding Waters Sierra Club to the Sycamore Land Trust. Topics ranged from solar energy to pro-forestation. All such groups are deeply involved in conservation, preservation and more.

“But we’ve all been unintentionally working in individual silos for the last few years,” Boyce said. “And now we’re beginning to come out and to talk to one another.”

Boyce mentioned that the concert was intended “as a spark to ignite the environmental effort in Columbus, which has been a little dormant during the pandemic.” Nationwide, Hermsen performs “songs celebrating love, ‘creatureliness’ and the earth, while recognizing the plight we’re in and imagining regenerative worlds that may arise out of crisis,” according to his promotional material.

In Columbus, climate change seems especially important since Cummins Inc. leaders have placed it at the top of its corporate priorities.

In November, a Cummins Inc. video clip on Instagram featured Tom Linebarger, the firm’s chairman and chief executive officer, highlighting that priority.

He called climate change “the biggest threat to that mission statement (of Cummins) that there is.

“In fact, climate change is the biggest existential threat of our time. So we want to dedicate our resources, our investments, toward solving climate change.”

Linebarger followed that by further publicly discussing such issues at the White House in January. Boyce figures Cummins’ position should be a call to action for everyone. Ideally, he said the action team and other local partners want to see the city administration draft a detailed environmental plan as 10 other Hoosier cities such as Carmel, Bloomington and South Bend have done.

Mary Ferdon, the city’s executive director of administration and community development, said the administration is making progress.

She mentioned that the city has an internal Sustainability Committee made up of departmental staff and a city council member.

“Over the past few years, the city has focused on sustainability measures which increase departmental efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint,” Ferdon said.

The city council paid for an intern before the COVID-19 pandemic, and that person “did work in this area for us and we began collecting data on our energy usage — through the Indiana University Resilience Cohort. “In 2021, we reworked a position in the Department of Public Works, which includes 50 percent time working on environmental sustainability. We are

just finishing up interviews and hope to have someone hired by the end of the second quarter. Having a staff member who will be proactively working with departments and the public will allow the city to continue to move forward in this critical area.” Boyce is happy to hear such an update.

“Anything moving forward is a cause for hope,” Boyce said.

But he acknowledged that he is concerned that “the job will not allow the person to really ‘focus’ on this important need.” And he said he is concerned that the city is far behind other communities serving as a benchmark for confronting such issues.

Singer Hermsen likes to quote Paolo Lugari, founder of the Columbian sustainable living experiment Las Gaviotas when it comes to confronting environmental issues.

“We are not confronting an energy crisis,” Lugari said, “but one of imagination and enthusiasm.”

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