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“In our world, there needs to be a real change in mindset,” explained Molly Jones, Executive Director of Sustainable Princeton, after a Sept. 11 announcement that the local organization had received a $100,000 grant to create a Climate Action Plan for the town of Princeton. “We need to consider the human impact on the environment.”

Sustainable Princeton has built a reputation collaborating with both the town and the University on projects relating to sustainability and environmental impact. According to a press release, the local organization will use the grant to work with the municipality to lower the town’s greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare the town’s infrastructure to withstand “the dramatically increasing impacts of climate change.”

Mayor Liz Lempert was quick to praise the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the “nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health” according to its website, for choosing Princeton to serve as a model for developing a CAP by awarding the town the $100,000 grant.

“It is a priority for the town to develop resiliency as we experience more frequent, intense storms, and flooding events,” said Lempert. “We also have a responsibility to do our part in reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change.”

Jones agreed with Lempert that a CAP is a priority for the community. She emphasized that this was a step in the right direction for the town, which has not been as aggressive as the University on combating climate change.

“The University has dedicated energy and thought to [the issue of climate change] in a more proactive way than the town,” said Jones. “It would be safe to say that the University has been focused on a plan of their own emission reduction in a more premeditated way and that the town is working to get to that point as well.”

The Princeton Council decided to make a CAP a priority in their 2017 work plan. According to Jones, the CAP allows the town to really prioritize which activities and actions will decrease Princeton emissions.

Sustainable Princeton plan’s first step is to develop a greenhouse gas inventory for the town. Soon afterwards, an advisory committee will be convened to determine what other specific goal should be set.

“Should we have a 1 percent decrease in emissions per year for the next 10 years, or 30 years, or should we do something more bold like aim to become a carbon free community?” Jones asked.

The town could aim for a 10 percent reduction in fossil fuel driven vehicles or it could amplify its focus on pedestrians and bicycles in the downtown area due to the CAP.

“It will be up to this advisory committee to really help figure out which direction things will go,” Jones explained.

Shana Weber, Director of the University’s Office of Sustainability and a member of Sustainable Princeton’s Board, was involved in high-level discussions and planning leading up to the current proposal. She noted that climate action planning is a powerful tool to strengthen communities across the country.

“Part of being active citizens is planning now for a future that assures infrastructure resilient to storms, strong community connections, smart management of resources, and reduced risk associated with reliance on fossil fuel based energy systems, to name a few,” she said. She further explained that many towns, colleges and universities across the state of New Jersey and the nation have or are developing climate actions plans as a priority. This development is occurring, said Weber, because the impacts of climate change are being felt in very tangible ways, thus spurring towns, colleges, and universities to be part of the new wave of creative problem-solving.

Weber also reaffirmed the University’s position as one of Sustainable Princeton’s partners. The University “will continue to explore collaboration and synergy in all areas of sustainability with the objective of collective positive impact,” she said.

In the past, the University has partnered with the township and local organizations on a number of other projects related to sustainability and climate change by providing student interns, faculty subject area expertise, and staff time. A recent example of such collaboration was the opening of the renewable energy-focused Princeton Parklet located outside jaZam’s toy store, co-sponsored by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.

While many sustainability and environmental student groups on campus were supportive of the grant awarded to Sustainable Princeton, some students cautioned both the municipality and Sustainable Princeton to act with nuance.

Dan Sturm ‘18, co-president of Green Princeton and a longtime resident of the town, explained that his primary hope is that “the money is used to study and learn about what towns in general can do to combat climate change, rather than to develop solutions that are unique to Princeton.”

“Other similar-sized towns in the US are not as wealthy as Princeton,” Sturm explained. “[They] do not have $100,000 grants to study climate change solutions, and don't have governments [or] residents that are as interested in fighting climate change as those of Princeton.”

Sturm also encouraged the town to continue to develop in other areas where it may be lacking.

“My final hope is that in developing the climate action plan and planning the development of the town, Princeton keeps in mind the importance of things besides climate change, such as affordable housing,” said Sturm. “Any time during which the town develops in one respect is a time for it to develop in many respects.

Development of the CAP began on the day it was announced and is expected to continue until December 2019. Any CAP is subject to final approval from the Princeton Council, the town’s legislative body.

Senior writer Sarah Warman Hirschfield contributed reporting.

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