Climate Action Starts in Your Own Hometown

Turn your city into a climate sanctuary, lobby your elected officials, and try out these other ways to make change globally by acting locally.

Illustration by Ludi Leiva

If you’re new to hometown activism, now is the time to get a few pointers. To start, recognize that no matter how small they seem, local actions matter. Remember the famous words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Find local allies.

To make real change in your community, you can’t go it alone. Does your town have a conservation committee, a sustainability circle, or a friends group that supports the local park? How about a chapter of YIMBY (“Yes in my backyard”) or Indivisible? Reach out. Get on the listserv, attend the meetings, learn about the priorities of your fellow concerned citizens, and see where you can lend a hand. These groups can lay the groundwork for big changes in your community and often have a line of communication with elected officials to help advance their mission beyond the neighborhood.

Make your city a “climate sanctuary.”

By fighting back against the expansion of fossil fuels at home, you’ll help build momentum for a broader national movement. Now that you’ve joined forces with a local green group (see above), here are some goals to pursue.

  • Tackle the food waste stream: According to the U.S. Composting Council, we sent 35 million tons of food waste to landfills in 2018—where it sat around, off-gassing methane. If we composted all that waste, the council says, the impact to our emissions levels would be the same as removing 7.8 million cars from the road. With that big picture in mind, take the first steps by composting at home—it’s way easier than you think. Then work with your local green group to conduct workshops for residents. Once the practice starts to gather traction, you can work toward setting up a community composting program. Some cities, like Seattle and Toronto, today run comprehensive, mandatory compost pickup programs that started small but now boast huge waste-diversion stats.
  • Switch off dirty energy: Lobby local officials to change your community’s default electricity provider to one that uses renewable power resources, like solar, wind, low-impact hydroelectric, or geothermal. It’s likely that green energy can save your town money, too. Officials in Charlotte, North Carolina expect to save $2 million in electricity costs with the development of a new large-scale solar project. You can help your town cut energy consumption on Main Street as well. Advocate for LED-powered streetlights (New York State provides a handy how-to guide), a “curfew” for commercial lighting through a dark-sky ordinance (as several Colorado cities have done), and energy-efficient appliances in municipal buildings.
  • Conserve water: Climate change is expected to shrink freshwater supplies and bring water shortages to one-third of all counties in the continental United States. But there’s plenty you can do to keep your city from contributing to the billions of gallons of water our country wastes daily as a result of leaky pipes, inefficient fixtures, and thirsty landscaping. By making a few changes, such as installing efficient toilets and sink faucets, you can save 11,000 gallons of water per year in your own home. Imagine what the impact would be if your entire neighborhood did the same. For inspiration, consider the city of Los Angeles, a leader in sustainable water management. Thanks to its comprehensive efficiency measures (as well as its water treatment and stormwater capture systems), it has kept its water usage on par with the levels Angelenos consumed in the 1970s. That’s a pretty big deal considering that the city’s population has grown by more than a million since that time.

Protect your local ecosystems.

In addition to pushing the federal government to strengthen the laws that protect the air you breathe, water you drink, and ecosystems we all rely on, you can organize efforts at home to protect the local environment. Convene a cleanup of a nearby waterway or a vine lop effort to beat back invasive plants taking over your town woods—a threat that has increased with climate change. Advocate for town ordinances that prevent pesticide use in parks or on lawns, or organize a tree-planting project. Over the course of eight years, 50,000 citizens contributed to planting and caring for one million trees in New York City as part of a project that has become a greening model for metropolises around the globe.

Get to know your elected officials.

Your members of Congress are supposed to give your community a voice in the national agenda. Set a calendar reminder to call their offices regularly to continue pressing on the issues of most concern to you. Follow them on social media, and engage with their posts. Organize a postcard-writing campaign with your neighbors. The louder you are, the more likely they will be to hear you.

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