In Mix of Levity and Urgency, NOACA Entertains Clevelanders' Climate Worries

The agency's Climate Action Plan, which sources $100K in local grants, wraps up in June

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click to enlarge Roughly 300 attendees filled out surveys in person at Tuesday's climate-themed listening session hosted by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Roughly 300 attendees filled out surveys in person at Tuesday's climate-themed listening session hosted by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.

Despite plentiful crowd jokes and taxpayer criticisms, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, best known as NOACA, hosted what appeared to be a productive listening session for climate urgencies Tuesday evening.

A massive Zoom conference splattered on screens throughout five locations, the public meetings tapped the existential fears on the minds of some 450 Northeast Ohioans— concerns for worsening floods, droughts, blizzards and more — with the intent of fine-tuning and finishing NOACA's Climate Action Plan by June.

Since last March, when NOACA hosted its half-day Climate Action Summit, the agency has jumpstarted a key element of its bigger-picture eNEO2050, which, among several lofty goals, aims to reduce carbon emissions in the region by 63 percent by 2030. The plan's suite of "vulnerability assessments" and "climate mitigation strategies" cost $100,000 for research and engagement, money provided by grants from the Gund and Cleveland foundations.

The philosophy, though swimming in abstractions and nonprofit-ese, is to make life fairer for those in Northeast Ohio who bear the brunt of the region's tough winters and other environmental hazards, NOACA execs said.

"We want to focus on the goals of equity, collaboration and inclusion," Joe MacDonald, director of strategic and environmental planning at NOACA, said at Tuesday's listening session. "Especially those people who have historically not had a voice in these types of efforts, who have experienced disenfranchisement, who have experienced redlining, who have had to disproportionately bear the negative impacts of their environment based on others' decisions."

click to enlarge Katie Moore, a project manager at NOACA, shows the crowd at Cuyahoga Community College how various climate hazards in Northeast Ohio stack up. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Katie Moore, a project manager at NOACA, shows the crowd at Cuyahoga Community College how various climate hazards in Northeast Ohio stack up.

Attendees shared their thoughts by tapping out responses on their phones via interactive software called Mentimeter. But some responses raised the question: Does Cleveland take this threat seriously?

One question posed to the group: "What would you like NOACA to do?"

"Stop wasting taxpayers money," one commenter responded.

"STOP! Just leave us alone," another answered.

"Disband!!!!"

"Take a swim in Lake Erie."

Another offered some clarity. "Offer solar panels?"

Still, memories of 2022's natural disasters were fresh on the mind of the presenters. The same day, the Associated Press reported, federal scientists had tallied 18 climate extremes — from Hurricane Ian's battering of the western Florida coast to December's bomb cyclone that killed 37 in Buffalo — costing the U.S. a total of $165 billion. "The risk of extreme events is growing," scientist Sarah Kapnick told the AP. "They are affecting every corner of the world."

That's true even off the coast of Lake Erie, a lake increasingly susceptible to algae blooms and thawing ice sheets. Yet because the region lacks 8.3-magnitude quakes or pummeling tsunamis or weeks-long heat waves, NOACA claims Northeast Ohio could become a haven for Americans living in regions sensitive to climate emergency.

"We understand that there are a lot of projections pointing to both leaving the coast and moving to places of what they're calling refuge locations," Katie Moore, a project manager at NOACA, surmised. "And the Midwest may very well become one."

Though not a true safe space. Moore listed seven "hazards" projected to plague Northeast Ohio more in the coming decades — heat, drought, severe winter weather, "seasonal conditions," flooding, severe thunder storms, Lake Erie — and asked the 450 attendees which they were worried about.

NOACA's vulnerability group chose, for the record, heat, thunderstorms, flooding. But the crowd responded that Lake Erie was its biggest concern.

"Yep, it's not surprising," Moore said. "Lake Erie is our greatest resource of the region, and that is something that comes up again and again."

Moore then turned to the night's final question, what seemed to be the most important for the Action Plan's spotlight on the five-county region's most vulnerable: Who, Moore asked the crowd, is the most vulnerable to climate impacts?

click to enlarge Attendees at Cuyahoga Community College. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Attendees at Cuyahoga Community College.

The respondents were, once again, clicker-happy.

"The NOACA Committee," one said.

"Joe Biden," another said.

After a string of honest answers — "asthma patients," "the homeless," "neighborhoods with few shade trees" — one commenter said, "We all share the risks. It's just a disaster away."
Despite the occasional wisecrack, NOACA director Grace Gallucci said the engagement was a worthwhile step before the Climate Action Plan's June wrap-up.

"Clearly there were a number of comments that perhaps are not supportive of climate change planning," she said in a phone call. "And that's what this process is all about: To gather information, to inform people. And hopefully we will come to a consensus on, 'Where do you go from here?'"

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About The Author

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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