Gilbert: Reducing the cause of global warming at the local level

By Paul Gilbert, General Manager of NOVA Parks

April 22 is the 52n/a Earth Day anniversary. Although the emphasis on land is the same, the issues over 50 years ago and today are different. When the first Earth Day happened, it had been less than a year since the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland had caught fire from all the chemicals. When the rivers are on fire, you know you have a problem.

1970 saw the creation of the EPA, and in the decades since, our water, air, and land have all become cleaner. But today, rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions due to too much carbon in our atmosphere are creating a daunting challenge. Carbon is the burning problem in today’s rivers, and solving it is more difficult.

In Northern Virginia, NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) has worked to address this problem on a regional scale. Forests and trees are one of the most powerful weapons we have to fight the cause of global climate change. When you look at a tree, the material it is made of is largely carbon absorbed from the air. Trees actually grow a little faster today due to higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere. At NOVA Parks, more than 80% of our 12,200 acres are in the forest. This amount of forest absorbs nearly 10,000 metric tons of carbon from the air each year. This is enough to offset the carbon footprint of over 3,000 people.

In addition to sequestering or absorbing carbon, NOVA Parks strives to reduce its energy consumption. Years ago, NOVA Parks was the first independent park agency to join more than 600 other local governments in committing to reducing emissions. The effort was called Cool Cities and Cool Counties. The commitment was to reduce carbon emissions by 2% per year from 2010 to 2050. By 2021, NOVA Parks had achieved its goal and reduced its carbon footprint by more than 1,200 metric tons per year, more than a reduction 2% annual growth since 2010. It’s one thing to commit and another to stay on top a decade later. The use of information technology and automation has reduced vehicle travel. New and modernized buildings use less energy for heating and cooling. These common-sense steps, taken over time, can reduce anyone’s carbon footprint.

Parks are more than places of entertainment. The natural spaces they provide filter rainwater, absorb carbon and cool our territory. NOVA Parks works with experts on how best to manage land for optimal environmental benefit to solve today’s problems.

Whether you’re hiking, biking, or paddling, recognize that the open space around you is actively working to improve our air, land, and water for generations to come. And as we reflect on Earth Day, let’s all pick a few things we can do over the next year to reduce our personal carbon footprint.

Teresa H. Sadler