Ohio State University: Mitigating climate change while managing growth will require collaboration, panelists say

Combating climate change while managing the growth that central Ohio is experiencing must involve collaboration by local governments and research institutions like The Ohio State University, panelists said during an April 29 virtual presentation.

Hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, “Choosing Our Climate Legacy: Priorities for a More Equitable and Resilient Ohio” brought together researchers, planners and government administrators.

“We’re talking about how we’re preparing Ohio for a hotter and wetter climate while keeping an eye on resilience and social equity issues,” said Harvey Miller, the center’s director.

Ohio State and other central Ohio colleges and universities play a key role in training the workforce that will address climate change, as well as community outreach, said Elena Irwin, professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics and faculty director of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State.

“We have as much to learn from communities as they have to learn from us. It’s really a co-production model that we’re trying to engage in,” Irwin said. “It really requires durable, persistent partnerships over time and really building the social capital in our local communities and regionally, as well.”

Central Ohio is one of the fastest growing regions in the country, and the population and economy are projected to further expand with Intel’s plans to build two new leading-edge chip factories in Licking County, said Kerstin Carr, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s chief regional strategy officer and senior director of planning.

“The Midwest region is an attractive place, and central Ohio, specifically,” Carr said. “We’re on track to become a region of 3 million people. We grew by nearly 240,000 people during the last Census period, and while our growth slowed down a little during 2020, we still experienced growth. We will continue to be a strong-growing region, moving forward.”

Ohio State has been integral in the region’s planning efforts in a variety of ways, including President Kristina M. Johnson’s service with the Columbus Partnership, a nonprofit organization of leaders from the city’s institutions and businesses, said Sandy Doyle-Ahern, who also serves with the partnership and is president of Columbus-based engineering firm EMH&T.

Ohio State has spearheaded innovative developments that bring together partners from throughout Ohio, Doyle-Ahern said.

“The West Campus Innovation District is a good example of a lot of regional collaboration around future technology and the way that we can begin to think about problem-solving,” she said. “The effects of it are pretty deep, reaching into the community.”

Every community in the region, from Columbus to Newark, where the two Intel chip factories are being built, must work collectively to address climate change, Doyle-Ahern said.

“The cost of mitigating climate change is the part that people are having difficulty trying to get their hands around because we don’t really understand the scale of it,” she said. “Taking it down to a scaled, local level can be an incredibly challenging thing to do, and it’s why all these communities need to work pretty closely together.”

In her recent State of the University address, Johnson noted that the University Senate passed a resolution to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, and the university is in the process of developing a detailed plan to achieve that goal. The city of Columbus has drafted a climate change plan with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality for the entire city by 2050, said Erin Beck, the city’s assistant sustainability officer.

“I think it’s critical to be partnering with the universities to help do that research in this space,” Beck said. “It’s only going to inform our policies and decision making.”

The most effective policies will likely result from individuals and organizations in each of central Ohio’s municipalities working together toward the common goal of sustainability, Irwin said.

“The idea of co-creating solutions with our community partners – the private sector, the public sector, the nonprofit sector – that’s the only way those solutions are going to get implemented, is if they’re owned by the people who are affected and can make the change happen,” Irwin said. “I think that universities play a critical role in that.”

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