Carbon, Communities, and a Conference

May Great Story by Jill Sanford, Sierra Nevada Fellow

There are numerous professional reasons to participate in CivicSpark, but I have to say one of the most significant ways it has impacted my personal life has been to cause me to think more about my own impact on the environment. This is something I have heard echoed by other fellows throughout my service year; that we are now more likely to use efficient light bulbs, to turn off our cars while they are idling, to spend our money locally and on companies with great sustainability practices, etc. Encouraging others to consider their carbon footprint in every aspect of their lives is a great motivator to actually practice what we preach.

Californians sure love their cars, however. Especially rural Californians.

Unfortunately, I fall into this category. My car is my ticket to freedom, to spontaneity, to adventure and getting through the workweek as fast as possible to maximize my free time. During the summer, my car is always stocked with everything I need to go for a quick paddle on the lake after work, a run on my favorite trails if I’m craving more time outside, and enough gear for that spur of the moment Friday night camping trip.

Recently I have been thinking about the value of compact, mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented local communities (how could I not as a CivicSpark Fellow?!). I crave open space and love the feeling of not seeing a building or person for miles and miles, yet I also value community and collective progress.

Tomorrow I will hop on a plane (another cringe worthy notch on my not-as-small-as-I-would-like carbon footprint) and head down to the SEEC Forum in Riverside. Because of price and flight duration options, I will be flying direct from Reno to LAX and attempt to travel the approximate 75 miles from the airport to the conference (rather than the 20 or so I would be braving if I had been able to fly into Ontario.)

After much counseling and advice from my friends who live down south, coworkers who grew up there, and even some other fellows on the LA and SoCal teams, I have a semi fleshed out plan of transport that involves taking a train from the airport and into the City of Industry to meet up with a carpool group to the conference. I have no idea how to get around in LA and I know I will miss my car the whole time, but I am also looking forward to breaking out of my comfort zone and challenging myself to experience alternative modes of travel.

The road (pun intended) to walkable and bike-able living in the Sierra will not be completed overnight. The towering snow drifts in the wintertime and spread out community resources are obstacles that require a different approach than many other places in California. Yet, more and more local governments, like the seven I work with on a daily basis, are seeing the value of planning with human powered and alternative transportation in mind. As these communities slowly change for the better, I will continue to hold myself accountable to love my bike more and my car less.