After President Donald Trump proposed sweeping changes to the way the country regulates energy production and emissions by signing an executive order last week, it may have seemed like efforts to battle climate change will take a back seat for the foreseeable future. But while sweeping changes to national policy make a big difference, these changes only underscore the value of local actions.
Everyday actions by citizens and cities can make a huge difference. As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently wrote, increasingly, the localized actions of mayors are pushing progressive environmental policies. “In both red and blue states, cities—which account for about two-thirds of the country’s emissions—are taking the lead in the fight against climate change,” he wrote.
Municipalities around the globe have made significant strides in fighting climate change, and this momentum means active and engaged citizens have extra leverage with their local officials. Curbed spoke with representatives from the Sierra Club, C40, and Environment America to source some concrete ways to impact climate policy in your local community.
Communicate with your elected officials and vote
Help your representatives help you by letting them know exactly how you feel about environmental policy. Public pressure can make a big difference: this fall’s raft of ballot measures supporting public transportation showcases the potential of local action. Attending public meetings, staying aware of local ballot measures and bills, and emailing and calling city, county, and state reps can help push progressive environmental policies forward (find them here). If your mayor is taking a stand against the administration’s climate policy rollback, as 75 mayors did last week, let them know you support their actions.
Plant a tree
Shade, serenity, sustainability—trees add so much to the urban landscape, including lowering emissions and impacting the heat island effect, and ask so little. Many cities give away free trees, have planting services, or require tree planting permits, so check your local rules before you start digging. And planting really adds up: a Nature Conservancy study found that investing just US $4 per resident in some of the world’s largest cities could improve the health of tens of millions of people by reducing air pollution and cooling city streets.
Take collective action with your local community
There is strength in numbers. Seek out community groups and join up. Writing letters to the editor of your local paper—here’s a guide to get started—and talking with members of your community can help. There are also often local meetup groups focused on topics like renewable energy or electric vehicles that can offer advice and opportunities to get more involved. Many national environmental groups also have local chapters that offer resources to campaign on a local level.
You can also take action with neighborhood and block associations. Villagers in the rural English town of Ashton Hayes didn’t need government help, special technology, or some special funding grant to fight climate change. Over the last decade, neighbors there have achieved a 24 percent reduction in emissions by collaborating and changing everyday behaviors like sharing tips on weatherproofing and reducing energy usage. The grassroots, no-drama effort had earned the town a place in the media spotlight by building community around a shared effort.
Push your city to support 100 percent clean energy
Switching to 100 percent renewable power may seem like a far-off goal, an unreasonable fantasy that can’t happen today. But it’s not as far off as you think. Many cities have started pledging to switch to renewables, joining the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign. By making the commitment, many cities have started to change transportation, planning, and energy policies to realize these goals, embarking on the long road to cleaner air. And, as many of the mayors and municipal leaders who have signed on have discovered, renewables will save them significant sums in the long run.
Advocate for more solar power (and consider installing your own solar panels)
In 2016, solar power was the number one new source of energy capacity installed in the United States, and many municipalities are cutting carbon and saving money by adding their own solar capacity. Here are some of the cities leading the charge for solar; advocates can ask for similar commitments from their own local leaders.
The price of solar panels has decreased significantly over the last few years, and installation can provide a big boost for efforts to cut local carbon emissions. The Energy Department has a good resource guide for homeowners, while Google’s Project Sunroof helps calculate the potential benefits of home installation.
Take public transportation, carpool, or just ride a bike
Transportation makes up a little more than a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s the fastest-growing contributor, so any action that reduces the amount of cars on our streets makes an impact. According to a 2015 study by the University of California at Davis, if 14 percent of all urban trips worldwide were taken on bicycle, the planet would be able to reduce emissions dramatically enough to achieve the Paris climate goals. That seems especially feasible when you consider that half of all urban trips are a very bikeable six miles or less.
Attend the People’s Climate March or Science March
Peaceful public demonstrations offer another way to get the attention of local officials. On April 22, the Science March in D.C. will support research and investigation through a rally and teach-in on the National Mall. On April 29, protesters and activists will again head to Washington, D.C., to demand action during the People’s Climate March. Modeled after the Women’s March from January, these demonstrations will be supported by solidarity events in cities around the country (here’s where to find info on local Science and Climate marches)
Steer your dollars towards green investments
Your dollars do make a difference. Fossil fuel-free banking options are available, and many organizations support programs that steer retirement investments towards a carbon-free, renewable power portfolio. Others are taking a harder stance; as part of continuing action in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline, Sierra Club is encouraging members to divest from Wells Fargo.
Protest and push back against older coal-fired power plants
Many local and regional groups have made it a priority to fight against coal power plants in a bid to cut energy usage and air pollution. A recent report by Environment America suggests that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a joint program between many Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, has made great strides in cutting pollution and energy usage in the region. Helping local activists as well as larger national campaigns, such as the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, which is focused on speeding up retirement for 250 aging coal plants around the country, can help speed up the shift towards cleaner power.