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Gilbert: Reducing the Cause of Global Warming at a Local Level – Loudoun Now

By Paul Gilbert, NOVA Parks Executive Director

April 22 is the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day. While the focus on the earth is the same, the issues from 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 because of all the chemicals. When rivers are on fire, you know you have a problem.

1970 saw the creation of the EPA, and in the decades since then, our water, air, and land have all become cleaner. But today, rising temperatures and extreme weather from too much carbon in our atmosphere create a dire challenge. Carbon is the burning river issue of today, and its solution is more challenging.

In Northern Virginia, NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) has been working to address this issue on a regional scale. One of the most powerful weapons we have to fight the cause of global climate change is forests and trees. When you look at a tree, the stuff it is made of is largely carbon absorbed from the air. Trees are actually growing a little faster today because of the higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere. At NOVA Parks, over 80% of our 12,200 acres are in forests. That amount of forest absorbs close to 10,000 metric tons of carbon from the air every year. That is enough to offset the carbon footprint of over 3,000 people.

In addition to sequestering, or soaking up, carbon, NOVA Parks is working to reduce its energy consumption. Years ago, NOVA Parks was the first independent park agency to join over 600 other local governments in a pledge to reduce emissions. The effort was called Cool Cities and Cool Counties. The pledge was to reduce carbon emissions by 2% per year from 2010 to 2050. By 2021, NOVA Parks had met its goal and reduced its carbon footprint by over 1,200 metric tons per year, or over a 2% annual reduction since 2010. It is one thing to pledge and another to still live up to it a decade later. The use of information technology and automation has reduced vehicle trips. New and upgraded buildings use less energy to heat and cool. These common-sense measures, taken over time, can reduce anyone’s carbon footprint.

Parks are more than fun places. The natural areas they provide filter stormwater, absorb carbon and cool our region. NOVA Parks is working with experts on how best to manage lands for an optimal environmental benefit to address today’s issues. 

Whether 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.

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