Roanoke Environmental Group Hands Out “Cool” Awards

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Winners of this year’s Cool Citizen Awards pose with their plaques.
Winners of this year’s Cool Citizen Awards pose with their plaques.

by Gene Marrano

The Roanoke Valley Cool Cities Coalition, which promotes alternative energy technologies and greener ways that can reduce carbon footprints – thus keeping the valley cooler – handed out its annual Cool Citizen Awards at the 2012 Affiliates Conference last week. More than 250 local businesses, individuals and non-profit groups are affiliated with Roanoke Valley Cool Cities, which was founded by Dr. Diana Christopulos and Mark McClain.

Roanoke Mayor David Bowers and City Council members Court Rosen and Bill Bestpitch were on hand at the Claude Moore Education Complex – a building renovated to LEED energy-saving standards – for the breakfast meeting last week. Also attending was Roanoke County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Flora, who recently cast the deciding vote when the county decided to keep paying its $1,200 ICLEI dues for the coming year. The citizens-led RC Clear group in the county is an affiliate of ICLEI; an international organization that promotes greener energy.  Flora handed out the final special achievement award.

McClain, the Cool Cities Coalition director, said Bowers had “helped us tremendously,” in getting the organization off the ground. The mayor praised Cool Cities for a program that gives low-energy CFL (compact fluorescent) light bulbs to low income families. Bowers also made it clear where he stands on green issues: “there is such a thing as global warming,” said the mayor, who urged those in attendance to “think globally [but] act locally. That’s what you folks are doing here today.”

For Christopulos the mission is simple: “we want to reduce greenhouse gases [that warm the earth]. I like sustainability. I think that’s a good word. Let’s be courageous about it [and] keep a constructive attitude.” Christopulos mentioned RC Clear’s Save-A-Ton education program, which has just been rolled out to show residents how they can reduce their household carbon footprint by a cubic ton per year.

“This is smart work to do. It’s not that hard and it’s good for the valley,” she noted. The Save-A-Ton campaign, which includes a website and advertising, recently netted several ADDY awards for the Thomas Becher Agency (tba) that designed it.

Keynote speaker Dr. Melissa Booth, who has studied life forms in the oceans from Antarctica to the North Pole, said global warming is melting the ice caps, which affects the salinity and the temperature of water. “This is a fact, this is happening,” said Booth, offering evidence as to how that affects everything from the health of coral reefs to the size of fish. “We’re playing a game by entering all of this CO2 into the atmosphere,” warned Booth, who lives on an island off the coast of Georgia.

There are already “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay, oxygen-deprived patches where fish no longer thrive, according to Booth. Rising sea levels, earlier spring seasons and ocean acidification are other harmful side effects of global warming. She urged politicians to stop delaying decisions on climate change and also had a related wish: “get corporate money out of politics [on environmental issues].”

Booth urged localities to encourage buildup within cities when it comes to development – not build out – in order to reduce urban sprawl and longer commute times that also mean more carbon emissions from motorists. “We have to make [these changes] now and work together by all means,” said Booth, alluding to the politically charged atmosphere when it comes to topics like global warming and green energy.

Cool Citizen Award winners included Brandon Oaks, the retirement community that was designated a “Cool Green Biz” by the Cool Cities Coalition, for an addition that was built to higher energy saving standards. Other honorees included Suzi Fortenberry of Benchmark Builders, which is constructing energy efficient houses in Roanoke County; Mark Jackson of the New River Center for Energy Research and Training; Roger Holnback, recently retired as executive director of the Western Virginia Land Trust, which works to preserve open space from development  – and Gene Marrano, cited for balanced environmental reporting in a variety of venues, including the Roanoke Star-Sentinel.

Janet Scheid, a member of the RC Clear committee, was honored for “showing courage by speaking out publicly in support of the county’s ICLEI membership, in the face of hostile opposition,” according to the written introduction for her in the awards program.

Doug and Mary McCallum were also recognized as individual Cool Citizens for erecting a small energy-producing wind turbine on their property after overcoming opposition “from radical non-environmentalists,” according to presenter Rupert Cutler, a former Roanoke City Council member and a past Cool Citizen winner himself.

Mary McCallum cited Roanoke County supervisor Charlotte Moore for helping them obtain the permits needed. “Keep spreading the word,” said McCallum. Moore has also voiced support for the proposed wind turbine farm on Poor Mountain.

The final Special Achievement award went to the Roanoke Valley-Allegheny Regional Commission, which has spearheaded efforts like RIDE Solutions, to encourage alternative means of transportation. The Regional Commission, a quasi-governmental agency that encompasses eleven local jurisdictions, has also offered free energy audits and the Partnership for a Livable Roanoke Valley – which promotes environmental quality. Executive Director Wayne Strickland said that focus is nothing new: “we’ve been working on environmental projects [since that 1970’s] … we have a lot of projects going on.”