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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Chapel Hill's role in combating climate change

Chapel Hill Town Council member and candidate Michael Parker shares his view on protecting the environment

Michael Parker.jpg

The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. This column is also part of a series of columns by local government candidates. Michael Parker is a Chapel Hill Town Council member and running re-election in the fall. 

Climate change is the existential issue of our time. If we don’t respond to it quickly, boldly and effectively, nothing else that we do will matter much to our children and grandchildren.

Many people ask: “What can a town like Chapel Hill do? Isn’t it a Federal and State problem?” While there are critical things that we need these governments to do — regulating coal fired generating plants for example — there are important things that we need Chapel Hill to do. 

Case in point. Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse emissions in North Carolina — soon to be the largest. The most important thing that we can do to reduce these emissions is cutting vehicle miles travelled (VMT).  We must get people out of their cars. This is where Chapel Hill comes in. 

The combination of smart land use planning and the provision of multi-modal transportation — particularly transit — is the most important thing we can do to reduce VMT. We need to stop sprawling and create compact, mixed use neighborhoods that are walkable, bike-able and connect to transit. And only Chapel Hill can do this for Chapel Hill. Regardless of what the Federal and State governments do or don’t do, it is incumbent upon us to take action now.

I am proud that Mayor Pam Hemminger is one of over 400 climate action mayors across the country who have committed to the Paris Accords. It is now time for us to develop a Climate Action Plan that implements the goals articulated by the mayors, such as zero net carbon emissions by 2050. Such a plan must be:

  • Goal and data driven: We need to have goals (e.g., for reductions in VMT and other emission sources) and milestones at five-year intervals so that we can measure progress and modify the plan. We should use data to ensure that we focus our efforts on the actions that will be most impactful.
  • Comprehensive and integrated: Our plan must address the full range of actions that we need to take, ranging from land-use and transportation planning, to changing building codes to mandate energy efficiency, to promoting alternative/renewable energy, to waste creation and disposal, to tree preservation and planting. 
  • Resiliency focused: We must also adapt to the effects of climate change that we are already experiencing, such as more severe and more frequent adverse weather events. Our plan needs to include steps to mitigate the effects of these events through, for example, more effective stormwater management.
  • Focused on social equity: The effects of climate change will not be felt equally across the income and race divide. We must ensure that our plan spreads both the benefits and costs of our plan equitably.

I also want to stress that addressing climate change is not all about sacrifice. Apart from the climate associated benefits, there are other real paybacks of climate action. The social and health benefits of walkable neighborhoods, the green spaces that we will create, and the greenways that will be constructed will all promote a much higher quality of life for our residents.

I recognize that this is an ambitious agenda. It will require that our residents come together to develop and implement the plan in a way that may be new and challenging for us. And it will clearly require a commitment of resources that may require that we reorder some of our priorities. Can we do it? Will we do it? I am convinced that we can. We really have no choice.

If you live in Orange County and want to make your voice heard on something you care about locally, email

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