Lancaster and RegenAll celebrated a milestone Earth Day this year with the first Lancaster County Climate Summit. Over 60 speakers and an array of exhibitors gathered to provide information, solutions, and visions for turning our region into a model of sustainability. One key takeaway was that while there are many obstacles, a united community in which each individual and organization has a role to play has the tools–right now–to overcome them. Below, we’ll hear from speakers, organizers and attendees, and learn about what next year’s summit might look like.
Climate Action Focused Presentations
In the opening address at the Ware Center, Eric Sauder, founder of RegenAll, laid out the summit’s reason for being. Given the stark climate facts, along with expectations of drawing 5,000 participants to the daylong event, it seemed that too few people were there to hear his hopeful message: Locally based climate action, he said, “measurably improves lives, strengthens local communities, creates jobs, is a bridge between urban and rural communities, builds bipartisan collaborations, and shifts us from a sense of hopelessness to abundance and real results.” This is what the summit is about: sparking conversations, enhancing the work already being done here, and mobilizing for the next great push.
In a panel discussion beneath beautiful stained glass windows at Saint James Episcopal Church, it was exciting to hear Fritz Schroeder, President of Lancaster Conservancy, sharing a goal of protecting 5,000 acres of land over the next ten years. Rev. Matthew Lenahan’s passion was impressive as he talked about reconnecting people with homegrown food and about the Wittle Farm Growing Project beginning from the realization that “We couldn’t food-bank our way out of food insecurity.” Similarly striking was Mayor Danene Sorace’s exclamation, “Let’s toss the car!” when speaking of the need for change in city transportation.
Another bright spot for me was when Monica Carey of Solar United Neighbors, after walking the audience at Tellus 360 through the steps of going solar, said about their Lancaster group, “This is the fastest-growing Co-op I’ve seen since my time at SUN.” This in turn made me think about our county’s high adoption rate of electric vehicles compared with the rest of PA, and I recalled Eric Sauder’s words from earlier: “Lancaster does things that you wouldn’t expect Lancaster to do.”
A Sustainability-Minded Crowd
The sheer number of exhibitors was dizzying. They included green energy systems installers, investment firms, a regenerative hemp farm, a student researcher, a forest therapy guide, the Penn State Extension Master Watershed Steward Program, the Lancaster Theological Seminary, and a Climate Action Neighborhood formed by residents of Hamilton Park, to name a fraction. “It was like a trade show,” Joyce Burkholder of RegenAll said. And then some. Perspectives varied, too. One energy consultant extolled the virtues of youth in climate action, while a representative of Landis Homes was there, he said with a slight grin, “To show what some old people can do.”
The audiences listened actively, asked informed questions, and shared opinions and advice. Many attended multiple presentations, like Nelson Longenecker, VP of Business Innovation at Four Seasons, whose schedule coincided with mine so often that I thought he might believe I was following him. I also spoke with two people who took kids to each venue, gathering marks on the “passports” RegenAll created for the day, which when filled gave them free access to the Science Factory. “It just fit in well with our Saturday,” one said. The other, city resident Evan Smith, loved that different elements of the community had come together for a common goal. “I definitely want to see it happen again,” he said.
Future Climate Events in Lancaster
“We assembled such a lineup for this Summit as a day to be remembered because we believe that more and more people are looking for ways to be environmentally aware and active,” Rev. Dave Bushnell, credited with the genesis of the summit, said. He, too, regretted that more people had not attended, citing the 1,000 filled seats counted at presentations (since many attended multiple presentations, the number of participants was less). The planning committee he chairs is exploring holding the 2024 summit at a single venue, which might draw a bigger crowd, streamline the organization and solve a problem I had: rushing from site to site, I missed many exhibits and parts of–or entire–talks I’d hoped to catch, despite attending all day. Fortunately, recordings of presentations should be available soon, so stay tuned for those.
The inaugural 2023 Climate Summit for me was a whirlwind of information that was intriguing, inspiring, and a bit overwhelming. The proportion of the community it brought out, though, was not large enough, nor was it very youthful–a problem Burkholder recognized, saying “How do we engage with kids more?” is a question that needs answering. So there is room for growth, and why shouldn’t there be? This was only the first of what should be many Lancaster County Climate Summits. I believe they will keep getting better. I sincerely hope people notice.
Ryan McCoy is a contributing writer with a background in creative writing and journalism who hopes to bring attention to local climate action. He enjoys reading and being outdoors, and resides in Manheim Township with his wife Adrian and their cat Littles, who has a little face.