Author: Christina Mills

Climate Action Across the Country: Nevada, Utah, Colorado

In this update we are focusing on three western states: Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. These three states are all taking action on climate change and working hard to protect their communities. 

  • In one of his first actions as Nevada’s Governor, Steve Sisolak launched a strong climate agenda with a 2019 Executive Order. The state has been busy working to address climate change ever since.
  • Leaders and voters in Utah are supporting climate action, even if it’s not always identified as such in the legislation. Both the University of Utah and Utah State University Cooperative Extension have very strong climate programs. There is also a dedicated network of nonprofits across the state working on climate issues.
  • With strong economic interests in oil, gas, and coal industries, Colorado is an interesting state for climate action. Since 2015 government leaders, universities, nonprofits, and local communities have all worked to move the needle on climate change.

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Climate Action Across the Country – Florida, Georgia, and Alabama

This month we are taking a closer look at the southeast. With communities feeling the impacts of increasing temperatures and sea level rise, the need for building climate resilience is growing. As places where the phrase “climate change” can be a problem, it has been remarkable to learn how much progress is being made.

Florida’s Governor famously banned the phrase “climate change” in 2015. Remarkably, just a few years later in 2021 the legislature passed a comprehensive climate change adaptation bill with unanimous support.  

In Georgia climate change is not discussed using direct terms. But that has not stopped a robust cadre of university, nonprofit organizations, and local governments from generating momentum to address the climate crisis. Instead, these efforts focus on real impacts faced by farming, forestry, and coastal communities, centering the conversations in lived experiences. 

Alabama seems to be the least engaged state in the country when it comes to climate work. The legislature and Governor are deeply conservative. And the key science advisor in the state does not believe climate is impacted by human activity. Nevertheless, hazard mitigation efforts (mostly coastal) and climate education programs are helping people be prepared.

Florida

Florida is understandably very concerned about sea level rise, hurricanes, and flooding. These climate impacts are affecting the whole state and there is unanimous conviction among legislators and the Governor that action must be taken. Several bills were passed in 2021 to increase funding and build capacity for climate adaptation at the community level. Florida has a very well-organized network of 10 Regional Planning Councils. State funding and support is funneled through these councils to cities, counties, and regions for adaptation work. Additional support also comes from the Florida Climate Institute, a 10-university multi-disciplinary network.

On the other hand, climate change mitigation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is still dismissed in state government. In fact, laws such as SB 856 & SB 1128 are being passed to make it harder to take action at the municipal and regional level. These laws prevent construction of clean and efficient energy infrastructure and prevent local governments from banning the use of natural gas in new construction.

Outside of state government, however, there are several organizations working statewide on climate mitigation, such as the SE Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is also strong on reducing carbon through energy efficiency, fuel reduction, clean energy goals, and energy resilience projects. Despite efforts to protect the fossil fuel industry and natural gas burning utilities, Florida continues to make progress on reducing greenhouse gases.

Georgia

Despite the current political reality in Georgia’s state government, academic and nonprofit organizations are doing important climate change work. The Georgia Climate Project, a consortium of 9 universities and industry representatives, is making a concerted effort across the state.  GA Conservancy is a statewide nonprofit organization, originally launched 50 years ago with a conservation focus but has now shifted to a focus on climate.  The Cooperative Extension and Sea Grant programs work extensively on coastal adaptation work, and are leading regional forestry efforts. 

The GA Municipal Association publishes a statewide newsletter that speaks openly about the threat of climate change to cities and has convened subgroup of 70 Atlanta metro cities on the issue of climate change. Atlanta has been a longtime leader in the state with their Climate Action Plan published in 2015 and and still active.  In contrast to all this important action, the legislature just passed a law preventing local governments from prohibiting the use of oil and gas systems in new construction.  This same law has passed in several states across the USA.

Alabama

Alabama is a state where simply using the term “climate change” can hamper action. However, it is also a state suffering devastating losses and on-going threats from coastal flooding, sea level rise, and hurricanes. As a result, hazard mitigation and preparation are addressed actively in a State Hazard Mitigation Plan and within the Southeast CASC (Climate Adaptation Science Center).  The Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club both have active chapters here, while Auburn University and Energy Alabama are using education to help address misinformation and develop a more informed audience for climate information. 

Unfortunately, there are several significant influencers in the state, including the state climatologist and Alabama Power. While work to address climate change is muted in Alabama, there are many good people working hard on the ground to change that reality.

 

Climate Action Across the Country – California, Oregon, Washington

This month we are looking at the western states of California, Oregon, and Washington. All are generally progressive states and have embraced climate change both socially and legislatively with policy, funding, and political will. Despite working on climate issues for many years, there is more to do. Fortunately all three are positioned to make real headway.

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Climate Resilience Planning in Lane County, Oregon

Lane County, Oregon is located on the western side of Oregon and stretches from the Three Sisters mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It is home to a diverse population in both rural and urban settings. In mid-2020 Beyond Toxics and NAACP Eugene/Springfield established a Climate Equity and Resilience Task Force comprised of community representatives and stakeholders who live and work with diverse and underrepresented communities in Lane County. The role of this Task Force is to ensure that the actions developed by the County in their Climate Action Plan are equitable. 

Our team produced a Climate Trends Primer and helped Beyond Toxics develop a Vulnerability Assessment report, important steps to developing equitable and effective climate actions. We also helped facilitate a 2-session virtual vulnerability assessment workshop attended by community members, county staff, and other stakeholders.

Climate Action Across the Country – Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois

Our research into climate action in states across the country continues with Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. These 3 neighboring states share similar geography, economy, politics, and culture. Yet they have very different responses to climate change. These differences highlight the need for state-level climate leadership that can adapt and flex to the unique circumstances on the ground.

In Nebraska, the farming community is driving change, fueled by their pain from drought and other extreme weather. In Iowa, there is a growing movement to pressure the legislature to take action and  a strong Green Iowa Americorps with real boots on the ground. Illinois has been struggling with corruption in politics and their energy sector for years, but it looks like Governor Pritzker is breaking new ground with comprehensive clean energy legislation.

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EPA Report Shows Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change on Vulnerable Populations

The US Environmental Protection Agency has recently released an in-depth report on how climate change disproportionally impacts the 4 most socially vulnerable groups people in our communities, as identified by the EPA.

The report reinforces a well-known factor in the field of climate resilience planning, and it  provides useful insights and evidence that you can use to drive home the importance of focusing on vulnerable populations in your own community’s climate resilience development.

EPA Category EPA Definition
Low Income Individuals living in households with income that is at or below 200% of the poverty level.
Minority Individuals identifying as Black or African American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and/or Hispanic or Latino.
No High School Diploma Individuals ages 25 and older with a maximum educational attainment of less than a high school diploma or equivalent.
65 and Older Individuals ages 65 and older.

“A new EPA analysis released today shows that the most severe harms from climate change fall disproportionately upon underserved communities who are least able to prepare for, and recover from, heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and other impacts.  EPA’s analysis indicates that racial and ethnic minority communities are particularly vulnerable to the greatest impacts of climate change. Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the United States: A Focus on Six Impact Sectors is one of the most advanced environmental justice studies to date that looks at how projected climate change impacts may be distributed across the American public.”

“The impacts of climate change that we are feeling today, from extreme heat to flooding to severe storms, are expected to get worse, and people least able to prepare and cope are disproportionately exposed,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan

Download the report here: https://www.epa.gov/cira/social-vulnerability-report

Climate Action Across the Country – Alaska, Alabama, Florida

We continue our review of climate action in states across the country (read Part 1: NC, WI, MT and Part 2: VT, LA, MI). This month we are highlighting three very different states where Republicans dominate local government: Alabama, Alaska, and Florida. The impression that Republicans aren’t concerned about climate (a legacy of Donald Trump) has recently been re-examined by Pew Research. Their findings show that while this is generally true, there are some Republicans who are very concerned and ready to act.

Alabama’s Republican majority legislature is not addressing climate change, while the small but valiant climate concerned community is trying to talk about the issues in a way that can be heard. Alaska is caught between the state government backers of an economy currently founded on oil and gas, and the communities who are threatened by the rising sea. Florida is also besieged by sea level rise and flooding, and despite a majority of Republicans in charge of government, the state is moving forward decisively, with bipartisan support, to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

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Practical Guide to Building Climate Resilience a key resource for Resilient Methow

Resilient Methow logoThe Methow Valley in Washington state includes several small towns and unincorporated areas within Okanogan County and has suffered substantial impacts of a changing climate, including increased wildfires and smoke and decreased winter snowpack with faster spring melt cycles. The Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) is a local non-profit that works to protect the Methow Valley’s natural environment and rural character, and within this mission, climate change is a key focus area. In 2018 MVCC engaged a broad set of local stakeholders including 45 local organizations, agencies, and community leaders in a watershed level approach to developing a Climate Action Plan.

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