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NOACA to continue climate action planning despite pushback, heckling at listening sessions

Northeast Ohio residents participating in the hybrid Climate Action Plan listening session
Zaria Johnson
Ideastream Public Media
Northeast Ohio residents participate in the hybrid Climate Action Plan listening sessions held by the North East Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency in Cuyahoga County on Tuesday, January 10, 2022.

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency will continue to develop its Climate Action Plan and invite community members to give their feedback, despite experiencing pushback from some attendees at its hybrid listening sessions on Jan. 10.

NOACA's Executive Director and CEO Grace Gallucci said the agency held the sessions to hear the perspectives of residents across its five-county region, and invite them to get involved with the process.

"It's an opportunity for us to share information," she said, "and to let folks know what we're doing and provide the factual, objective, data-driven components of the work that we're undertaking so they can best understand how they can participate in the process and how they can evaluate their own support."

Attendees could watch the livestream of the session on YouTube remotely, or at one of five locations in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina Counties.

Some residents at the Cuyahoga sessions were frustrated with the platform and expected to be able to speak to a NOACA representative directly.

When the agency posed questions to its attendees through the web service Mentimeter, responses appeared on the screen. Some expressed frustration, saying "Defund NOACA," or "Let us speak!" Others heckled the agency with responses that elicited laughter from in-person attendees, while a few commended NOACA for "attempting" to engage the community with its meeting.

Gallucci said there was an "organized effort" by residents who do not believe in climate change to attend the sessions. Some of those attendees were members of the Geauga County Tea Party, according to the organization's newsletter.

"There's inevitably when we have public meetings, individuals that will come to those meetings not necessarily wanting to talk about the topic, but wanting to address either other work that we do or just the organization itself," she said. "So it did not surprise me."

Gallucci said NOACA representatives didn't respond to comments that did not answer the agency's questions to avoid distracting from the goal at hand — the effects of climate change in the region.

"That is why we didn't, for example, address any of the comments or questions that related only to NOACA, or were related to things that were more global about climate change," she said. "That's not what we were there to discuss, and so we tried to keep focused on those points that helped to have some conversation around the purpose of the plans development the questions about the information that was presented and the next steps."

Members of Geauga County Tea Party intend to protest the agency at its board meeting Friday, according to their newsletter.

Gallucci said the data presented at the listening sessions intended to show that 80% of Northeast Ohio residents believe in climate change and feel more work needs to be done to address it.

Other research presented, like the agency's Greenhouse Gas Inventory, shows the effects automobile emissions on air quality in the region, Gallucci said.

"We wanted to have folks understand that transportation emissions are a huge problem and that part of our planning efforts for eneo2050 are beginning to address that,' she said. "We really need to demonstrate how we can make a difference by changing behavior."

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is nearly 412 parts per million, according to NASA, which is nearly a 50% increase since the beginning of the Industrial Age when the concentration was near 280 parts per million.

The Climate Action Plan aims to reduce carbon emission levels in the region, to support the national goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Gallucci emphasized that the agency wants to hear from all residents with feedback on its plan and recommends reaching out by email, or through the NOACA website.

"It's not as if we're trying to only hear from people that support what we're doing," she said. "We want to hear from everyone."

Gallucci added that the agency will consider adjusting plans for the formatting of additional Climate Action Plan meetings to allow them to hear from as many residents as possible.

"None of the engagement [methods] are right or wrong," she aid. "It's just we we try to do things in a way that we can capture more of our residents in the process."

Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.