Everyone has an opinion…until you hold a public hearing?

A year ago I wrote about the importance of planning with regards to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and getting the most bang for your buck. Last month we read about the importance of implementing those plans. Today I’d like to write about the importance of community input. If you check your social media feed, engage in discussions around the water cooler, or just follow the news, you’ve seen and heard a lot about the importance of engaging in a certain public process. However, I’m not here to talk about the presidential election (or how voter turnout remains a major issue in our democratic process….never mind, I’ll stop). I want to focus on the difficulties experienced when trying to get community members to participate in the public processes of our local governments. We don’t live in silos where the decisions made by our leaders have no effect on our community, so why is it so tough to get people to engage in helping to make these decisions?

COMM Jackson CA Wayne Hsieh 2014 04I get it. There tend to be other things I’d rather do after work than sit in a room for two hours discussing ideas for how to save energy. We want to be out doing the activities we live in this region for, and these mountains afford us incredible outdoor opportunities. Do you know what else the Sierra offers us though? It offers smaller communities where our input makes a bigger impact. If we don’t sit in that room and let our ideas be heard, how will our elected officials know what we want?

Somehow we need to ignite a sense of urgency in our communities that it is a responsibility to be involved in the public process and have a stake in the decisions that are made. It is easy to be a critic, even easier to be one when you don’t feel you have a stake in the game, but harder to accept one’s stake and bring a solution to the table. Let’s start today.

Our region is one of problem-solvers; it’s in the character of our mountain communities. The energy action plans drafted by SBC at the request of local governments can only be successful if the members of those communities support the actions proposed in the plans. This is one of the toughest parts of my job. Our Climate Planning team and I speak to residents and hear their excitement and support for a plan, but those voices are nowhere to be heard at a public meeting. So we ask ourselves, as the writers and implementers of these energy action plans, what is it going to take to get people to show up? Free cookies and drinks? Going door to door? A more exciting venue for the workshops? We’re open to ideas!

The fact remains that without public participation we will not achieve the energy savings, nor the financial savings inherent within, that are possible in our communities. If you love your town, or city, or county, then we urge you to be aware and get involved in the important decisions in your community. Talk to your elected officials when you see them in the grocery store, tell them how important saving energy is to you and your neighbors. Show up to public meetings and workshops and let your ideas be heard.

We’ve finally reached a place where it seems the importance of reducing our carbon emissions is commonly understood; now we’re deciding on the most efficient and effective ways to reach those goals. That’s where you come in, and we hope you’ll have our back.

Photo courtesy of Wayne Hsieh