Last week, leaders from Los Angeles to Washington DC came together to discuss how they are tackling some of the greatest climate challenges in their communities. The event, Climate Day LA, invited business, community, faith, government, and nonprofit leaders in order to present a forum and sounding board for effective climate solutions.
Climate Solutions are Intersectional
Climate action isn’t about polar bears. In fact, it’s not even just about a warming planet or changing long term weather patterns. Climate change is about people, and climate leaders must focus their rhetoric and actions to reflect this reality.
Those living in underserved communities are the most likely to be affected, both directly and indirectly, by a changing climate. Clean air, clean, drinkable water, green spaces and healthy, local food are all luxuries in demand for those living in lower income communities. Nourbese Flint, of the organization Black Women for Wellness, connects the dots, emphasizing at Climate Day LA that: "affordable housing, economics, and women's health intersect with climate change."
Climate solutions must be focused on improving the lives of people. That can mean access to cheaper energy bills, well paying jobs, community gardens, housing that's more affordable, and more opportunities for residents to live healthy, better lives. These are solutions that are universal in their appeal, but can be tailored to meet the specific needs of any community.
Have a Plan
Developing a plan is perhaps one of the greatest hurdles to climate action. Leaders must access resources, assess costs, benefits, and the needs of their communities. Whether it is solar powered cellphone charging stations in Raleigh, or expanded bike lanes for workers and residents in Long Beach, CA—leaders have to account for their own community’s specific needs.
"The largest population of bike riders in LB are undocumented people getting to work. We need them at the table." Robert Garcia, Mayor of Long Beach
Learn to Communicate Effectively
Once a plan is developed and underway, it is important to know how to best communicate with residents, and all members of the community to show how climate action affects their lives. This is important for making the community a part of the solution, and increasing the resiliency and acceptance of the plan.
Communicating about climate can be a tricky endeavor, and doing so incorrectly can have some serious consequences—making climate skeptics more set in their beliefs. Fortunately, ecoAmerica has done exhaustive research to identify the most effective ways to talk about climate. A brief summary of the research can be broken down into 15 simple steps:
- 1. Start with people, stay with people. Mayors must express that climate action is about residents first. Be sure to stay focused on how action improves the lives of families and residents in your city.
- 2. Connect on common values. We all want to live in clean, healthy cities. Show residents that values including faith, community, personal choice, health, and fairness are the motivations for climate action.
- 3. Acknowledge ambivalence. Show that you recognize the competing priorities and limited time available to effect climate solutions.
- 4. Make it real. Point out local, real climate impacts that affect residents and the health of their communities.
- 5. Emphasize solutions. Climate change offers opportunities and solutions that can empower communities. These include well paying, stable jobs for residents, lower energy bills for businesses and families, and healthier environments to live and raise a family. Focus on these benefits rather than the consequences of a changing climate.
- 6. Inspire and empower. Cities are the epicenters of climate action. Mayors and community leaders are able to act quickly, decisively, and implement climate action plans with an efficiency unparalleled at the state and federal level. These may include subsidies for rooftop solar, bike paths, or even increased energy efficiency standards for new construction. Let your community know how local action can translate to regional and global progress.
- 7. Focus on personal benefit. Climate action brings well-paying, stable jobs. It puts more money back into family pocketbooks by decreasing energy bills, and creates healthier environments to live and work. Focus on these benefits rather than personal sacrifices.
- 8. End with your “ask.” Call on residents to be productive climate changers and provide the impetus to act. This may include voting and supporting climate-wise policies and programs.
- 9. Sequence matters. Start your messaging with what is personal and relevant to your constituents’ lives, and move to solutions.
- 10. Describe, don’t label. Use simple language to illustrate the need and benefits of action. Picturing the results of solutions is more effective than jargon-filled explanations.
- 11. Have at least one powerful fact from a trusted messenger. Don’t get too bogged down with statistics. Use one or two statements from a source your community trusts to lend support for action.
- 12. Ditch doom and gloom. Too much talk about climate consequences is not constructive, so focus instead on how action can overcome these challenges.
- 13. Use stories to strengthen engagement. Stay away from abstractions. Use personal stories to show that action benefits real people in the community.
- 14. Stay above the fray. Don't get sidetracked or sucked into arguments—focus on the big picture of climate solutions.
- 15. Message discipline is critical. Know your residents and what is important to them. Stick to your talking points and stay on message.
Have an Ask
One of the key takeaways from all of the speakers at Climate Day LA is that one must always have an ask—some actionable request so that respondents aren’t left feeling hopeless, but can take climate action into their own hands. The ask here is simple, sign up to receive our weekly blog and to keep up to date on what’s going on in communities and climate!
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.