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 resistance efforts matter—we’ve certainly seen it at the town hall meetings that are heating up around the country. 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”), Indivisible, or RISE Stronger? 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 missions beyond the neighborhood.
Make your city a “climate sanctuary.”
Frustrated by the changing federal commitment to our clean energy future? By fighting back against the expansion of fossil fuels at home, you’ll help build momentum for a broader movement. Now that you’ve joined forces with one of the local green groups (see above), here are some goals to pursue.
- Tackle the food waste stream: According to the U.S. Composting Council, we sent 25 million tons of food waste to landfills in 2005—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 one of your local green groups 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. Seattle, for example, reported that it diverted 56 percent of its waste from landfills in 2013 through composting and recycling.
- Switch off brown 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 a green energy company can save your town money, too, as officials in Georgetown, Texas, found when they switched to a wind and solar provider. You can help your town cut energy consumption on Main Street, too. 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 a 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 from 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 new residents since that time.
Support a healthy habitat.
As federal environmental regulations weaken—or disappear—you’re right to be concerned about the health of the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the land you rely on. In addition to helping NRDC fight for these basic rights, you can also organize efforts at home to protect the local environment. Convene a cleanup of the local 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.
There’s nothing like face time with your members of Congress to give your community a voice in the national agenda—and that’s why you should bookmark this calendar maintained by the Town Hall Project. Come prepared to share your story or ask questions of your elected officials and follow up with the office to continue pressing on the issues of most concern to you. There are other ways to engage locally in the federal decision-making process, too, such as attending public hearings or submitting opinions during comment periods, as many Washingtonians have done in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s grizzly bear recovery plan in the North Cascades.
Host a party.
What are you doing Saturday night? You can combine your community work and play time by organizing a gathering of local activists. Coordinate a fund-raiser for a group that’s making a difference in your community’s environment (or on behalf of another environment under siege, such as the Standing Rock Sioux or Flint, Michigan). Host a congressional postcard-writing party, or plan a hometown rally with your new peers from the conservation committee—these are all great ways to recruit more neighbors to join your fight.
Sometimes the best way to turn your anger into action is to pick up the phone. Follow these tips to minimize your anxiety and maximize your impact.
President Trump and the Republican-led Congress are poised to wipe out crucial environmental safeguards. Here’s how you can join the fight.
What is your city doing about climate change? Ask your local leaders these five questions.
Healing the planet starts at home—in your garage, in your kitchen, and at your dining-room table.
Let’s not forget what America looked like before we had the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Our rivers caught on fire, our air was full of smog, and it stank (literally).
The state knows a thing or two about creating a climate policy that’ll keep battling carbon pollution—even if the feds cut and run.
Climate science is under its fiercest attack yet. But one group has been countering the onslaught—by connecting with everyday Americans in their own communities.
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change all over the world—including in the United States.
Jeff Ruch has the backs of worried (and outraged) federal environmental workers hanging on in a Trump world.
Make long-lasting memories but a minimal environmental impact during your spring break getaway.
With a new series of bills, California promises to protect the environment no matter what happens on the federal level.
As he took odd jobs to get by, Robin Tucker’s father developed 20 fatal tumors from being exposed to asbestos, a toxic mineral that is still legal in U.S. products—including children’s toys.
We know that you know that Trump’s assessment of the Paris Agreement is way off base. Here’s how to convince those who don’t.
The founder of Bold Nebraska has led the Cornhusker State’s years-long rallying cry against TransCanada’s tar sands pipeline.
The Trump administration’s review of national monuments threatens America’s culture and natural beauty.
Industrial polluters have gone to great lengths to stifle environmental advocacy, but their expansion of censorship laws has finally crossed a line for some federal judges.
Partnering with NRDC and ACLU, residents of this Michigan city took their local government to court in a battle for safe drinking water.
Vulnerable communities across America pay the highest price for environmental justice issues brought upon by polluters.
Jazz pianist Fabian Almazan started Biophilia Records to make great music—and environmental change.
Meet a handful of the NRDC staffers who resisted Trump’s attacks and defended our environment in 2017—and who won’t stop fighting anytime soon.
Insert yourself in the policy-making process. At town hall meetings and in public hearings, during comment periods and in our courts, government officials have to listen to us—whether they like it or not.
NRDC’s Sasha Forbes talks environmental justice, and why women are often at the helm of this work.
Today’s young people are finally realizing just how much power their voices actually wield. These millennial climate activists have every intention of using it.
On the first anniversary of the agency’s removal of climate change info from its website, a look back at one of the earth’s roughest years on record and the fight to set things right.
NRDC senior attorney Ben Longstreth explains how plaintiffs for these cases get chosen—and how you can help advance the cause in or out of the courtroom.