David Hauck of Takoma Park is on the executive committee of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club. Until 2011, he was chair of the Montgomery County Sierra Club. We chatted with him recently about Earth Day, Sunday, April 22.
What are the biggest threats to the environment in Montgomery County?
Hauck provided three: Stormwater runoff, invasive plants and climate change.
What can Montgomery County residents do to mitigate those threats?
"If you're a homeowner there are things you can do to make your home more energy efficient. Some of them are obvious, switching to more efficient light fixtures, CFLs, LEDs. When you replace your appliances, get an Energy Star appliance."
An Energy Star refrigerator uses one-third the power of a refrigerator from 1999, he said.
Homeowners can plug leaks where they lose heat or air conditioning. The savings on energy will pay back the costs in three years, he said.
Hauck said the Montgomery County Sierra Club will do a series of house meetings where members will discuss the problems associated in trying to save on energy. The first, he said, will be April 25.
For three years, the Sierra Club has scheduled monthly invasive plant removal outings along the Underground Railroad Experience Trail in Sandy Spring. "At first you didn't see much progress, but after three years, the forest is coming back. The native understory, the native plants are coming back. That's very gratifying," he said.
Residents can also keep stormwater on their property. Rather than dumping water from the downspouts, they can route it 6 to 10 feet from the house, watering the lawn or garden, Hauck said. Rain barrels can also help water lawns and gardens during dry periods.
"This is the win-win. When people get their quarterly bills from WSSC in summer from hooking up the hose to the spigot, those bills are hefty. Why would you take water that's free, raining on your roof, and throw it into your street, and then turn on your hose for water you buy?"
It's a political year, and we see variations on this question a lot: But is our environment better off than it was four years ago?
"It's a mixed record. For some of the traditional air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, it has improved. The standards have been ramping up. Power plants have been cleaning up, putting scrubbers on their coal burning plants, or shutting them down. Over 100 coal burning plants will be shut down because they're old and too expensive."
Shutting down coal plants, he said, also helps public health, because the plants are a source of mercury and arsenic. Another positive has been increased fuel efficiency in automobiles and trucks.
But on the other side has been the "demonization of climate scientists," particularly among elected officials.
When he finds someone who disbelieves climate change, Hauck said he tries not to change his or her mind. "I say, 'I hope to God you're right, because if I'm right, our children are going to be in a heap of trouble.'"
He said he used to argue science. Now he points out the savings.