Climate action on local level more important now than ever (Opinion)

It’s 2022, just eight years from the IPCC’s “deadline” to achieve a 50% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid catastrophic and irreversible damage to our climate. If we cannot accomplish this, the science tells us we will set into motion ecological processes that will further catapult humans into an unlivable world.

With constant climate doomism in the national media, it’s hard to maintain hope about the future of our planet and the ability of human beings to meet the challenge we face after witnessing inaction from our leaders for more than four decades. However, the Inflation Reduction Act has given new life to federal climate policy potential. Still, there is somewhere even more important to focus. 

Too often in this country, the focus is political action on the federal level. While the federal government certainly has the potential to make the highest-leverage impact on our policies and lives, local government is where political action begins. Of course, the decisions of the federal government will play a significant role in this country’s ability to address climate change impacts – to rework the very systems in place responsible for our unprecedented levels of greenhouse gas emissions. But, it is at the local level that you can make real change. 

In the face of decades of federal inaction, local governments around the country have taken responsibility into their own hands. Cities, counties, and towns around this nation have enacted their own climate action plans, greenhouse gas reduction goals, ambitious clean energy projects, and the like to step up to the challenge, much like our own communities of Truckee and South Lake Tahoe. Coincidentally, local government is also where your voice is the most heard. There are several reasons I believe this to be a much more productive exercise than tailoring your efforts to the federal government level. 

Local governments develop planning documents, pass resolutions, adopt policies, and implement programs that are tailored to the specific challenges and objectives of their local community. For example, if the federal government passed a law that required all new buildings across the nation to include solar photovoltaic arrays, that would be a nonsensical policy. Solar energy is only cost-efficient and effective at producing reliable renewable energy in specific areas of the country, while wind, geothermal, biomass, or hydropower energy may be more appropriate in others. Empowering local governments to tailor their climate change solutions to the needs of their region makes much more sense.

Local energy systems are significantly more efficient than the long-range transmission systems we currently utilize in this country. For every mile that electricity travels across transmission grid infrastructure, the percentage of electricity that is lost increases, due to a physics phenomenon, called the Joule effect. By siting renewable energy generation facilities within (or at least around) the boundaries of a community, that community is able to maximize the resiliency and efficiency of their electricity system.

Another great benefit to localized energy systems is the ability to create a microgrid, which is essentially an isolated electricity grid with generation and storage facilities, which can function with or without the broader electricity grid turned on. In the example of wildfire, microgrids allow local water systems to maintain function without the broader grid, meaning that firefighters can pump water to fight wildfires, saving lives and homes, even when our utility companies shut off the power. 

The last benefit to localizing I want to discuss is the economic one. When critical infrastructure and systems are localized, or when a local government passes climate policy specific to their community’s needs, local jobs are created, climate adaptation measures are tailored to the local and regional environment, community members have the opportunity to get training and education in trades that contribute to these systems and new infrastructure, and the thus the local economic cycle benefits.

Petition your local government to work towards localizing your community’s energy system. Attend city/town Ccouncil meetings and let your elected officials know that you want every decision being made to be aligned with your community’s sustainability/renewable energy/climate mitigation or adaptation goals. Vote for elected officials that will make these issues a priority.

The message here is not that you should disengage politically on the federal level. Of course, all political activism matters and contributes to the greater good. However, I believe that if we all focused more of our efforts on transforming our communities into the world we wanted to see at large, then one by one, communities across America would change for the better. The whole is the sum of its parts. There are too many issues in the world today to address as a single individual. Use your time wisely and transform your community, because it is the most effective and efficient manner that we will be able to address climate change. 

Jackson Realo lives in South Lake Tahoe and is a volunteer with the North Tahoe Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, as well as the South Lake Tahoe 100% Renewable Committee and Tahoe Climate Change Action Network. He spends his free time enjoying the access to outdoor recreation like skiing, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and continuing to foster his relationship with the mountains. 

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