Republican-leaning states in the U.S. don’t have to call climate change by its name to be actively involved in mitigating climate impacts and developing low-carbon solutions, environmental science and policy professor Rebecca J. Romsdahl of the University of North Dakota argues in a post this week on CleanTechnica.
“Even in the fly-over red states of the U.S. Great Plains, local leaders in small- to medium-sized communities are already grappling with the issue,” Romsdahl writes. “Although their actions are not always couched in terms of addressing climate change, their strategies can provide insights into how to make progress on climate policy under a Trump administration.”
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
Romsdahl was part of a team that surveyed 200 local governments in 11 Great Plains states to gauge their involvement with climate change mitigation and adaptation. “We found local officials in red states responsible for public health, soil conservation, parks and natural resources management, as well as county commissioners and mayors, are concerned about climate change, and many feel a responsibility to take action in the absence of national policy,” she reports.
Even if they don’t frame their work as climate action, they’ve been addressing local dimensions of the problem for more than a decade.
“The public understands the value of clean water and clean air,” one official told the research team. “Who is going to say dirty water and dirty air is not a problem? By making the argument ‘climate change and humans are the cause’, significant energy is wasted trying to prove this. It is also something the public has a hard time sinking their teeth into.” Other respondents talked about deliberately framing climate action by connecting it to economic benefits, resource protection, energy savings, smart growth, good planning, air quality, community lifestyles, or sustainability.
“Local leaders focus on regional and local issues such as drought, energy, and flooding,” Romsdahl writes. “These are problems that are tied to climate change, but are already a priority on the local level. And the sought-for improvements, such as energy savings, health benefits, and flood management, fit well with local needs and values.”
In a separate post on Grist, Liz Purchia Gannon, a former head of communications with the Environmental Protection Agency, has words of wisdom for anyone trying to promote climate action in the current U.S. political context. She urges readers to be positive, respectful, and inclusive, emphasize the job benefits of climate action, use personalized, localized messages that focus beyond climate action, and try to create change at the state and local level while keeping pressure on leaders.
“Average Americans are really busy,” Gannon writes. “They’ve got families and jobs that take up most of their time and energy. They aren’t consuming the same in-depth stories, tweets, alerts, and morning newsletters that you are.”
So “reaching them requires targeted efforts, localized strategies, and smart and consistent messaging. It takes a lot more effort than just publicizing the latest bad-news study about climate change, but it will pay off in good news down the line.”