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Northfield Climate Board runs survey seeking community input

<te Action Plan Advisory Board (CAPAB), a committee established by the city of Northfield in February of 2018, is running a survey to collect community input on the city’s Climate Action Plan. The survey is part of CAPAB’s larger efforts to address climate-related issues within the city.

CAPAB was formed on February 13, 2018 as part of the City Council’s strategic plan for Northfield. According to the resolution that established it, the board will create a Climate Action Plan and will present it for adoption to the City Council, at which point it will dissolve. Its deadline is December 31, 2019.

Erica Zweifel, a City Council member for Northfield’s third ward and program coordinator for the CCCE at Carleton, said that Northfield’s strategic plan as a whole came about after the election of Mayor Rhonda Pownell in 2016. “When [Pownell] came on board as our new mayor, she decided to do some strategic planning with the Council, which I had not done since I’ve been on the Council; we hadn’t had the time to step back and take a really strategic approach and [focus] on a few initiatives,” Zweifel said. “So we selected six initiatives, and one of them is climate… and one of the desired outcomes from that climate initiative is a climate action plan, specifically for the city.” CAPAB was then formed through appointment of members by the mayor and approval by the City Council.

“There are varying degrees of support on the Council” for the Climate Action Plan, said Zweifel. “There are some that are like, ‘Fine, but don’t spend any money.’ I’m not sure if we have anyone that I would go so far as to say they’re a climate skeptic. But we definitely have a range of levels of support for the initiatives. But since it made it to the initiative list, it has full Council buy-in and staff resources.”

“We really wanted community input,” said Alex Miller, one of the co-chairs of CAPAB and sustainability program coordinator at Carleton. “And so the best way to do that, we found, was to do a public survey.”

The survey, which is available in both English and Spanish, asks questions such as “How often do you think about climate change?” and “If any, what actions are you currently taking to reduce the impacts of climate change?” It also asks respondents if they would support or oppose various potential actions that the city could take to combat climate change. If they wish, respondents can also provide their demographic information, such as whether they are a Carleton or St. Olaf student, live in Northfield or a nearby community, work in Northfield and/or own a business in Northfield.

“A lot of the questions in there ask specifics about what people are doing to combat climate change, but then also what the city should be doing,” said Miller. “We were really intentional about that, and that would help us with our education and outreach especially, to decide what people don’t know and what people do know or might want more higher-level information on.”

The formation of CAPAB is not the first time that Northfield has tried to address climate change, but it is the first time that such a goal has been adopted by the City Council. In 2008, a plan called the Energy Task Force Master Report was written, but the Council did not implement it.

The report “was basically a climate action plan on how to reduce our emissions, be a carbon-free community, but that never actually got adopted by City Council, and it didn’t have teeth to inform future policy,” said Miller.

“It’s been a great building point,” Zweifel said of the 2008 report. “We’ve gone back to some of those same community members that were engaged in 2008 [and] are on the committee now. So it’s exciting to be able to circle back and move it forward. It is a frustration for me that it took this long.”
Zweifel said that she originally ran for City Council because of climate change.

“I thought I had to do more than just my own individual actions,” she said. “It’s definitely a lens with which I view everything that comes before the Council, in terms of ‘will this move us toward a more resilient Northfield, and move us toward the transition?’”

Alan Anderson, Miller’s fellow CAPAB co-chair, said that the board’s efforts to gain community input on climate change have been developing over time. “One of our team members did informal polling at Earth Day and got some information,” he said. “Then we developed a more detailed survey and it’s going out electronically—it’s on the city site; we have students who will be involved with iPads just asking people to pause and take the survey… So we hope to get really good representation of the community taking the survey.”

While Miller said that involvement from St. Olaf and Carleton colleges was “minimal,” she said that the two colleges were connected with CAPAB through certain courses on the environment and through student volunteers. Students have been involved in helping to administer the survey and through the CCCE.

“Of course, both campuses, as far as moving towards being carbon-neutral, are way ahead of the city,” said Anderson.

Miller and Anderson both said that CAPAB’s six working groups were available to students seeking to get involved and that the board’s monthly meetings are open.

“I think the students today are ahead of the general public as far as their understanding,” said Anderson. “But I think Northfield is probably ahead of most communities our size in the percentage of citizens who understand that climate change is happening, it’s us, and we should do something. But it may not go much deeper than that. So when we get to the specifics of what are we going to do, then some of those folks, perhaps not appreciating the urgency, might balk at some of these solutions. And that’s why we’ve got to have ongoing education.”

The survey will be open at least through the month of October, and after that until a set threshold of responses is reached.

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