Climate change marchers: South Lake Tahoe a model for renewable energy commitment; more work to do

Tom Hellauer

Getting involved

Several groups recommended by activists include:

The League to Save Lake Tahoe — 530-541-5388

Sierra Nevada Alliance — 530-542-4546

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Around 50 climate activists and community members gathered at Lakeview Commons before proceeding to walk to Bijou Community Park Saturday morning during the third annual Earth Day Climate March.

The anniversary coincides with City Council’s passage of a 2017 resolution aiming for city-wide commitment to 100% renewable energy consumption by the year 2032 and an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2040.

For the organizers and activists involved, the progress since has been gratifying. A few years ago, “we were just a couple people in the back of the library,” Nick Exline said.

Now, Exline finds himself as a board member of the South Tahoe Public Utility District, as he and other involved climate activists decided to run for local office a few years ago.

Exline, along with Lake Tahoe Unified School District board member Bonnie Turnbull and City Councilor Devin Middlebrook, have since began to incorporate environmental issues into their respective platforms.

Since passage of the resolution, other cities and towns like Truckee and Nevada City have agreed to similar plans.

Jenny Hatch, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, and Exline have been able to spread South Lake Tahoe’s plan with other cities — not only in the region, but nationwide.

“I get emailed from around the country,” Exline said.

Often times, the pair and other local officials give consultations to interested cities.

Led by Hatch and her daughter Evelyn, march participants walked around 1½ miles from Lakeview Commons to Bijou Community Park while displaying signs and chanting periodically.

Some, such as Spencer Mathews of Davis, came from out of town to participate.

Upon arriving in Bijou Community Park a larger Earth Day celebration greeted marchers with booths of local environmental organizations, food vendors, artists and more. Live music and dancing also attracted community members to the park.

The celebration comes near the third anniversary of the resolution’s passage, which at the time made South Lake Tahoe just the 26th city nationwide to accept the ambitious energy commitment.

The act came in the crescendo of a wave of state and local government action following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. However, organizers, activists and officials during today’s events stressed that South Lake Tahoe and the region still face considerable environmental challenges.

John Ruiz, a disabled army veteran who rode his bike and walked with fellow protesters, began to clean litter he found in the park one day three years ago. He continued because, “It makes you feel good, to improve the space around you,” Ruiz said.

He has since enlisted family and friends, estimating some 700 pounds of litter has since been collected. However, the summer season and large surges in tourists often bring more trash.

“The Fourth of July is by far the worst,” Ruiz said.

He added, “(The litter) wasn’t always this bad or like this. It’s been getting worse in recent years.”

Local high schoolers, Logan Chapman and Tyler Pevenage, lamented at the relative lack of fellow youth activists.

“It’s important to remember that most people don’t see the effects of climate change such as pollution or rising sea levels first hand. That doesn’t mean they won’t affect us,” Pevenage said.

Marchers and locals Daniel Zuhlke and Aaron Skinner, encouraged demonstrators and community members to research the environmental benefits of veganism.

“This — climate change — is directly related to diet,” Zuhlke said. Meat and other animal based products require substantially more water, energy, crop growth and further resources than vegan options, Skinner and Zuhlke said.

While South Lake Tahoe’s renewable energy commitments and greenhouse gas reduction goals are admittedly ambitious, organizers and activists are optimistic and see room for improvement.

“There’s been very little pushback. The local government, business community, everybody has been very receptive,” Exline said. “We don’t speak to the differences we may have, we all share a common planet.”

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