The Western North Carolina Climate Action Coalition (CAC) is a non-partisan alliance among a variety of organizations and individuals who have an interest in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The coalition includes farmers, sportsmen/women, religious groups, educators, students, scientists and a large number of retirees who have seen the effects of extreme weather events here in Western North Carolina.

They are dedicated to supporting solutions that are cost-effective and practical for local governments, farmers, businesses, individuals and families.

History and current projects

The WNC CAC began in the fall of 2019 when a loosely knit group of folks met in Waynesville to discuss how to support the global climate mitigation effort by addressing local concerns about protecting this region’s people, environment, economy, health and recreation.

The group decided to continue meeting monthly as the WNC Climate Action Coalition because of the variety of organizations and individuals who have an interest in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Organized by the CAC, more than 150 people assembled at Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska in the fall of 2019 to watch the documentary “Guardians of our Troubled Waters,” which highlighted local efforts by grassroots organizations such as Haywood Waterways Association (HWA) that have greatly improved the water quality in the Pigeon and French Broad rivers.

Later that year, more than 60 people who are active in nine different organizations, including the interfaith Creation Care Alliance of WNC and the Climate Reality Project, came together at the Haywood County Agricultural Center to talk about environmental challenges faced in Haywood County and positive actions to address them.

WNC CAC suspended in-person meetings in favor of videoconferencing because of the pandemic, but hopes to be able to meet in person again soon. Working with other environmental groups and some local officials, the coalition is addressing major concerns based on the needs of Western North Carolina:

Reduce, reuse, recycling (plastics, composting, waste)

Working with Asheville Greenworks, this CAC committee meets with local solid waste and recycling officials to assist with educating/publicizing the statewide Recycle Right initiative. The group has connected via videoconference with Henderson County’s director of composting to learn about its extensive new county-wide composting program. In addition, the CAC leader has contacted New Mexico’s Senator Tom Udall’s office about his “Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act Sen (HB 5845),” and how to help build support for this bill.

Stormwater runoff reduction

The CAC encourages the use of rain barrels, sold to benefit Haywood Waterways, to reduce the amount of water entering creeks and rivers, as well as manmade drainage systems.

A CAC committee is consulting with a local church and state conservation experts about options for stopping precipitation runoff on church property.

Heavy rain has increased the amount of water processed in WNC wastewater treatment plants to an unsustainable level. The resulting stormwater runoff leaks toxins and erodes topsoil, contaminating waterways and destroying vegetation needed to help mitigate flooding.

Sustainability

This CAC team supports local farmers by encouraging the purchase of their products and promoting the sustainable practices of organizations such as the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), the NC Rural Center, local Community-supported Agriculture (CAC) and state agriculture agencies.

Farms are suffering from extreme weather in the form of more droughts alternating with increased rainfall. Some local farmers are addressing the problem, but more governmental and nonprofit support is needed. Help is increasingly available through the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and programs of the Governor’s Climate Change Interagency Council.

Sustainable energy

The WNC CAC Environmental Advisory Group is exploring ways solar cooperatives can benefit WNC.

Other efforts will include widespread electric vehicle charging stations for the public.

The group has studied the model Solar Cooperative in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which helps residents, including renters, and businesses reduce power bills by making solar energy a significant or main source of electricity. Solar farms benefit landowners, including farmers who lease their property to the cooperative.

Youth Conservation Corps (YCC)

Under the auspices of Haywood Waterways Association (HWA), the YCC works with schools and churches by assisting with organizing young people to assist HWA with its stream and stream-side restoration, and cleanup and invasive plant removal.

Science education is built into these projects. These projects are designed to observe all the three Rs (distancing, masks and hand-washing) for health and safety.

YCC’s model is Haywood Waterways’ “Kids in the Creek” program, which has served more than 15,000 middle school students with this educational, hands-on learning experience.

Two YCC interns from Western Carolina University are working with Haywood Waterways and the YCC to restore local rivers and streams. YCC plans these programs based on best practices of the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps.

Other programs

The CAC also has a writer’s group that provides information and maintains the group’s website. A steering committee coordinates and oversees the CAC’s projects and committees. The CAC maintains no treasury and does not solicit fees.

Groups or individuals in Haywood or surrounding counties who want to join or learn more about the coalition are encouraged to visit www.wncclimateaction.com.

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