Baraboo area residents are determined to take action on climate change, as about 60 people — double what was expected — packed into the Baraboo Public Library on Tuesday night to start coordinating their efforts under the new nonprofit Powered Up Baraboo.
“I’d like to give my appreciation for you people getting this together,” said participant Walter Scott Sr. of Baraboo, referring to the Powered Up Baraboo board that organized the public meeting. “I think this is one of the most significant things that’s happened since I’ve been here.”
Organizers had hoped to draw at least 30 community members to discuss how they can take steps to mitigate climate change, focusing largely on increasing the use of renewable energy and environmentally sustainable practices within Sauk County.
Participants split up into four “action teams” that will continue to work on sustainability efforts in four areas: schools, green spaces, homes/businesses and the creation of a city-level sustainability committee.
Introducing the goals of the meeting, Powered Up board member Judy Spring told participants that each group should come up with rough project ideas that they can use as a starting point. She instructed them to consider what results each project will have, how long it might take and how they would measure progress, among other things.
“You’ve got to have some way of telling me that something’s changing and making a difference, otherwise I’m not going to bother talking with you, because I am fed up to here with talk meetings,” Spring said, gesturing with a hand at her neck. “We’re going to move forward.”
Powered Up Baraboo aims to help the community become “carbon net zero” — meaning it either eliminates carbon dioxide emissions, one of the greenhouse gases known to contribute to global climate change, or offsets emissions with carbon removal — by 2030.
Board member Beth Persche led the group discussing the potential creation of a city sustainability committee either formally within city government or informally as an ad-hoc community group. Her team plans to meet again in January to discuss what other cities are doing and to decide how to implement similar actions in Baraboo.
To ensure its carbon net zero goal is met, the nonprofit wants the sustainability committee in place next year, along with a city sustainability coordinator.
“The hope again is to really start working on these action groups, pull our community together in a coordinated effort and move forward like other communities are around the world and taking responsibility here in Baraboo,” Persche said.
Organizers asked participants for input on “community assets,” such as who could be considered an ally to their efforts — from local elected representatives and city and county staff to other organizations and community members. People like Baraboo School Board member Mike Kohlman, Alderman Tom Kolb and Sauk County Board Supervisor Tom Kriegl were included on the list and attended the meeting.
Led by the Rev. Marianne Cotter, the green space action team plans to look into educating adults about issues related to green space. They talked about encouraging less lawn mowing and more prairie plants, as well as investigating possible public lands in the county that could be used for large-scale tree planting.
Energy efficient homes
For homes and businesses, participants aim to help low- and middle-income individuals, families and businesses reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Sitting in the homes/businesses group, Ben Wilson, an organizer for Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said the organization helps people upgrade their homes with renewable energy and can help them get resources.
Wilson said CAW wants to act on climate change but has found it difficult with the current state Legislature.
“While we work to elect officials that will take a stance on climate change, we wanted to find ways that we can make a difference right now, today. And we discovered that one of the best ways to fight climate change is through home energy efficiency upgrades.”
Ten people at the meeting signed up for more information from CAW, he said.
Baraboo native and University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County student Mariah Deyo, 20, took part in the team discussing schools. She is secretary of the UW-Baraboo Green/STEM Club and a student government representative.
“I didn’t really know what I was coming into, to be completely honest with you,” Deyo said after the meeting. “I came here just to see what kind of community conversation was going on, and I’m very happily surprised by the numbers that are in here today and the energy and conversation and knowledge that was shared around the room. It was awesome.”
She plans to implement some of what her team discussed Tuesday at the college campus, she said. Ideas included a symbolic tree planting this spring or an annual prairie burning.
Powered Up Baraboo will meet again Feb. 4 at the Baraboo library when actions teams will report what they’ve been working on. That meeting also will likely include an educational program for the general public, Spring said.
Walter Scott Sr. said he was impressed with Powered Up Baraboo and its ability to get people like him excited again about doing something for the environment.
“Everybody’s always talking about the sophisticated aspect of greenhouse gases and climate change, but the bottom line is this: If we keep polluting, all these things in the air and in the water and in the land — somebody is going to pay for this. And it’s not going to be my generation or the next; it’s going to be these grandkids of ours, so we’ve got to do something to stop it,” he said.
And with Powered Up’s focus on action, Scott is “extremely” optimistic.
“Optimistic enough to get off my rear end and get involved and do something,” he said.
Follow Susan Endres on Twitter @EndresSusan or call her at 745-3506.