The Terre Haute City Council on Thursday passed a resolution acknowledging climate change is a threat to the city’s public health and economy, and is to formulate a plan to reduce greenhouse gases adopted by 2023.

The council heard from a Vigo County youth-led group called “EARTHlings” which hopes to bring awareness about the urgency of climate change and persuade officials to take the lead in providing climate change education.

The “earth” in EARTHlings, which formed about year ago, stands for Environmental Activists for a Resilient Terre Haute.

Ahan Bhattacharyya, a junior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School, said “the resolution will acknowledge climate change and treat it as an emergency.”

Additionally, the resolution calls for the city to appoint a Sustainability Commission and appoint a coordinator by 2022, to manage and implement sustainability programs and initiatives such as waste reduction, recycling, composting, green building, storm water management and promotion of locally grown food and sustainable transportation.

The coordinator’s duties would not have to be handled by a new hire but could be handled by a current city employee, said City Attorney Eddie Felling in response to a question from the council.

The commission, under the resolution, is to form a Resilient Terre Haute Climate Action Plan by Aug. 2023. It would set emissions reduction goals and create an energy management program and would be updated every three years, staring in 2026.

The city is already enrolled in Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute’s Resilience Cohort program to conduct a greenhouse gas inventory and obtain a baseline greenhouse gas inventory of all city government operations. The gas inventory is to help the city develop a climate action plan to identify strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in city activities.

Some other cities participating in the Indiana University program include Carmel, Elkhart, Evansville, Fishers, Fort Wayne, Gary, Goshen, Michigan City, Richmond, West Lafayette and Zionsville.

The resolution has the city partnering with Resilient Terre Haute “EARTHlings”, Indiana State University, Indiana University and other higher education institutions, Vigo County government, Vigo County School Corporation, businesses and other organizations. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency and renewable energy use, and create a citywide climate action plan to promote public health and protect the environment.

Carbon dioxide and methane gases, from burning fossil fuels such as oil, are increasing global temperatures, the students told the council.

Julie Pichonnat, a Terre Haute resident who will be a high school senior at the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities in Muncie, said the group has worked with Mayor Duke Bennett and members of the City Council “because we wanted to be proactive, not reactive about protecting our environment, our city and our future.

“Climate change is a global issue and Indiana is certainly not immune to its effects,” she said. The Purdue Climate Change Research Center has determined that the Midwest can expect more intense and frequent heat waves, more droughts as well as heavy rain events, Pichonnat told the council.

Changing environmental issues this year include smoke and ash from massive fires last month from the Western states that caused haze and reduced visibility in Terre Haute, as well as flooding in Arizona, Germany and India.

Last week, a heat wave spurred Greenland’s biggest melting event of the 2021 season so far, Leif Speer, a fifth grader at Dixie Bee Elementary School, told the Council.

The resolution passed In a 7-1 vote, with Council President Earl Elliott opposing. Elliott said he did not have enough information on greenhouse gases to make an informed decision.

“I have absolutely no idea what is going on with climate change. That is far from my area of expertise,” Eillott said. “I have read things on both sides, and I think it is a controversial issue. I cannot support something if I don’t think I am knowledgeable enough to have an opinion,” he said.

In another issue, the council approved $36,663 to match a federal grant to provide bulletproof vests to the city’s police department. Terre Haute Police Sgt. Steve Lockard said the 50-50 grant is part of an annual program to provide the vests to the department.
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