When we think of our nation’s strongest climate leaders, cities like New York and Los Angeles often come to mind. With vast resources, deep pockets, and environmentally conscious residents, implementing climate solutions in these cities often comes with broad public support.
But not all action comes from expected places, and residents in Utah are providing a model of robust climate action unparalleled in the nation. A recently implemented regional plan incorporates 90 cities across 10 counties, and takes on some of the greatest, and most difficult climate challenges that cities face. This includes efforts to slash water consumption, improve air quality, incentivize higher density-lower impact development, and plans to build expansive light and heavy rail networks throughout the state.
Such an ambitious climate action plan would seemingly require a strong federal and state presence, yet the effort was almost entirely community led. So how is such bold action possible at the city and community level? The answer lies with three key approaches that can be implemented throughout the country:
- Citizen Input and Feedback: One of the hallmarks of Utah’s success lays in connecting citizens to climate action. Cities and communities are free to adopt whichever climate action plans are best for residents in a particular area. Strategies for improving communities are being crowd-sourced from local citizens, who are given a platform to voice their greatest climate concerns, and ideas for addressing such challenges. The plans are then adopted based on local priorities, and implemented by local leaders who are in constant and direct contact with the public. As Robert Grow, president of Envision Utah, put it: “Our purpose is not to lead somewhere, our purpose is to let the public see their choices and let them lead.”
- Bipartisan Leadership: Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country, making it a seemingly unlikely place to serve as a model of climate action. However, by embracing a grassroots coalition of businesses, nonprofit, and community leaders, the push towards climate solutions has avoided the political hurdles that are too often entangled with environmental action. Leaders also point to the voluntary, bottom-up nature of the effort as a further contributor to making the program so effective. Rather than making action compulsory through state or federal mandates, which brings political baggage, this voluntary and local approach makes action for residents across the political spectrum more attractive.
- Coalition Building: Key to Utah’s success has been bringing together unlikely groups to pursue a shared interest. This has largely been facilitated through the unique design of the program. Because of its community-led, voluntary, and apolitical nature, participants feel more personally engaged and have attached themselves to a broader view of the community, seeking the benefits of action for their neighborhoods, businesses, and churches. Leaders from across the public and private sectors feel committed to improving the lives of their employees, customers, congregations, and residents—and are anxious to implement long term policies over short term challenges.
Thus far, the plan has performed beyond expectations. Despite a large growth in population, the region has successfully cut water consumption by 25%, air pollution by half, and the number of cars on the road has decreased. These improvements are estimated to have saved the state billions of dollars.
So how can you get started on similar plans in your city? First, learn how to communicate and connect with leaders in your neighborhood. Check out our communications guide and resources to get started. With an effective communication and leadership toolkit, you will be able to inspire citizen involvement and multi-sector action from across the political spectrum. So join with Path to Positive leaders today and help to bring climate solutions to your community!
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor of political science and environmental politics. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University. Email him at [email protected]
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