116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Meet Linn County’s sustainability manager
Tamara Marcus is the county’s first sustainability manager
CEDAR RAPIDS — Tamara Marcus was hired by Linn County in September to be the county’s first-ever sustainability program manager.
Marcus is a former Fulbright scholar, Switzer fellow, NASA New Hampshire Space Grant fellow, a National Center for Atmospheric Research fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in the Natural Resources and Earth System Sciences program at the University of New Hampshire.
Marcus also is a co-founder of Advocates for Social Justice, a Black Lives Matter group pushing for police reform in Cedar Rapids.
Additionally, Marcus announced a campaign for the District 3 seat on the Cedar Rapids City Council earlier this month. Currently, council member Dale Todd holds the seat and is running for reelection.
Marcus was hired as part of the county’s 2019 climate resolution, in which the Linn County Board of Supervisors committed to various emission-cutting goals.
Last year, the county updated the climate resolution to prioritize vulnerable communities.
Most recently, Linn as well as Johnson County have been involved with a solar-group buy in an attempt to get more residents and businesses to purchase solar panels for their buildings at a lower cost.
Both counties have done this in the past, but this is the first group buy together.
Q: What’s your role with the county and can you describe your work?
My position is the Linn County sustainability manager. This position was created following the 2019 climate resolution, which committed the county to emission reduction targets. Really, when the Board of Supervisors created the position and when I started, one thing I was specifically tasked with was creating the greenhouse gas inventory to create a baseline to see if we were on track to meet those goals.
I accepted the position and a week later the derecho happened and a week later I started the position. This position has definitely been impacted by that event. I wanted to revisit the county goals as a whole because there’s specifics around emission reduction targets, but there wasn’t/isn’t a pathway to get there.
Q: What made you want to be in this role?
I’m a climate scientist by training and have been studying this for over 10 years now. Sustainability is a controversial topic and an important topic. I’m from Cedar Rapids originally and grew up here, graduating from Kennedy, and I went to University of Minnesota for undergrad.
I also worked in India for a couple years doing climate research there. I focused really heavily on the technical side of climate research. I came back to the U.S. and learned Hindi and went back as a Fulbright scholar and focused on building connections with nonprofits and people in the spaces I was working. It allowed me to do and understand more. Being able to contextualize my work in a broader realm of society was really influential for me.
Q: What are the areas in sustainability that you are most interested in?
I think for me, it is providing a foundation for citizens to become the change makers within their respective communities. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the fear of regulation and to me, there’s been a disconnect in understanding what sustainability is.
When I say sustainability, I’m not just talking about climate change and adaptation, I’m thinking about healthy, local food systems and economies and how they are important in creating policies, programs and initiatives that will support the systems holistically.
If you’re only focusing on one of them, as soon as the position changes or the Board of Supervisors changes, it all falls apart. In my mind, you have to understand how all these pieces are interconnected ... . So that what you will create will actually be something that’s lasting.
Q: When it comes to Linn County, what do you look at in terms of the issues and potential solutions?
Honestly, one of the biggest issues is where people hear a trigger word — sustainability — and they think it’s some leftist-progressive ideology and people close off. I understand why. My grandparents are farmers. It’s a critical part of conversations around sustainability. Part of what I think positions like this have to do is to show those who might be skeptical is that it is of value and something local government should be engaged in.
People may say climate adaptation and action is a federal issue and I’m like, ‘why?’ You know what’s going to work best here than anyone in Washington or Des Moines would know. Why are we expecting to have this top-down approach to climate action? I definitely see that role for the federal and state government to play, but I think it’s good for us to have benchmarks and leave it to the local government to decide how to get there.
Q: What is the solar group buy?
This program is partnered with Linn and Johnson county, giving people the opportunity to learn about solar energy and potentially buy for their home, business or farm. The idea is with all these individuals buying in at once, then the cost is cheaper for everyone. There are solar power hours, about 15 of them. We had the first one already and 85 attended the first night and 30 of those signed up to receive an assessment.
Q: What’s going on with the greenhouse gas inventory?
That is the big focus. We just got all of our data. We’re just working on really making it look pretty. That should be available very soon.
Q: How did the update to the climate resolution come about in 2020?
You can see the length and detail between the 2019 and 2020 resolution. I just don’t think you can pick a better example of why it’s so important to have a focus on equity and climate adaptation after the derecho. Every corner of the county was touched. But the impact was not uniform.
This is why we need local government, because it was complete chaos. The response to derecho, there was a lot of criticism of it and I can see why. Some of it is valid to be honest. Knowing that and seeing this, it gives us the opportunity to do it better if it were to happen again.
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