On Sunday, February 22nd, a coalition of environmental groups led by Don’t Spray Me! sponsored a panel of experts at the Unitarian Congregation of West Chester, with an audience of about 90 people.
After a cordial welcome by Rev. Dan Schatz, the three panelists spoke reflecting their own particular backgrounds:
• Richard Whiteford, environmental activist, a founder of the local Sierra Club branch, noted climate change speaker and writer, Board Member of World Information Transfer NGO, and participant in the Paris Climate Conference of 2015. Richard spoke to the unseemly subsidies that our government gives to the fossil fuel industry. That funding should go to renewables. Fortunately, he said, some states, universities and towns are stepping into the gap left by a delinquent US government.
• Dianne Herrin, Mayor of West Chester since January, founder of BLUER (a coalition of local leaders advocating for reducing carbon emissions), former head of the Borough’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, and initiator of the Environmental Bill of Rights passed by West Chester citizens. Among other themes, Dianne spoke to West Chester’s renewed commitment to urban trees and to the growing realization that nature has rights too. She also brought out that natural gas is not a “bridge to clean energy” and that Pennsylvania’s Public Utilities Commission is actually hostile to renewable sources of energy.
• Chrissy Houlahan, engineer and businesswoman, veteran, chemistry teacher, founding COO of B Lab to promote civic responsibility in companies, and a 2018 candidate for Congress. Chrissy emphasized that the legal framework exists for corporations to choose to be good environmental citizens (known as B-Corps: Benefit Corporations).
The panelists responded to audience questions ranging from issues related to pipeline safety to business responsibility to Paris Climate Agreement challenges.
Asked about local consequences of global warming, Richard Whiteford predicted an increasing likelihood of “rain bombs” (with something like 8″ of rain in 2-3 hours), species extermination, and the total breakdown of Philadelphia’s storm runoff system. Chrissy Houlahan added that climate refugees, particularly from Africa, will be causing worldwide dislocations.
As summarized by moderator Sheila Burke’s: participants feel a sense of urgency to solve environmental issues; people want to be involved; and we can be very heartened by the large number of people stepping forward.
Exhibitors at the display tables included Citizens Climate Lobby, Delco United for Pipeline Safety, Don’t Spray Me!, Food and Water Watch, Penn Environment, and the West Chester Co-operative.
It has been a goal of Don’t Spray Me! since its founding in 2015 to open up dialogue about environmental issues and to engage in community education. This event built on the environmental film series at WCU in the fall of 2017, which was created in collaboration with Sierra Club and the University’s Sustainability Program and was preceded by the Earth Day celebration of April 2017.
Photos by Taka Nagai