Community Climate Action Awards lay the foundation for transformative change

by Richard Rollins

Over the years, it’s become clear that local actions often provide the incentives that government officials need to take critical actions designed to help us step back from the brink of climate disaster.

“Public will, especially as expressed through citizen activism, is an important influence on the policymaker process,” noted Yale University’s School of the Environment in 2020. “Strong public demand increases the likelihood that governments will prioritize climate change action.” And the public seems to agree. A Pew Research Center study also from 2020 found that “a majority of Americans continue to say they see the effects of climate change in their own communities and believe that the federal government falls short in its efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change.”

And last summer, citing examples in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Virginia, The New York Times noted that local action is “critical for the United States — which is second only to China in emissions — to have a chance at helping the world avert the worst effects of global warming.”

To inspire local action, Sierra Club’s Climate Emergency Mobilization Team is offering Community Climate Action Awards to a limited number of Sierra Club Chapters or Groups for the fourth year in a row. The program offers modest financial support to kick-start or sustain projects that:

  • address the local causes of climate change,
  • advance environmental justice and community collaboration, and
  • benefit from additional financial resources.

Examples of Community Climate Action Awards

In past years, the program has directly supported Sierra Club projects across the country that amplify community voices to prioritize climate actions. The following are examples that might work where you live or stimulate conversations that could lead to a climate action that is right for your community.

Bi-lingual climate fact sheets

– Many people want to do their part to halt global heating but simply don’t know how or where to start. Responding to this reality, the North County Group of the San Diego Chapter used a 2022 award to create climate fact sheets and translated them into Spanish to reach more members of their community. The series of fact sheets provide basic information about the causes of climate change and offer suggestions on how to change behaviors and habits. These resources arm Sierra Club members with the knowledge to discuss the need for changes in policy and priorities with legislators.

– In Yountville, CA, an ordinance was adopted that banned the use of gasoline-powered leaf blowers, which are notorious for the emission of climate pollutants. The town also provided a subsidy to help landscape businesses offset the cost of new battery or electric powered equipment. The Napa Group of California’s Redwood Chapter used its 2020 award to create bi-lingual mailers announcing the new ordinance and subsidy, with special focus on reaching the Spanish speaking business owners.

Regional climate plans

– As part of its 2021-2024 Strategic Conservation and Resilience Plan,  the Sierra Club Southeast Iowa Group held its first educational Forum for the Future of Fairfield in 2021, focusing on how other Iowa communities turned challenges into opportunities. The event  helped attendees understand that a resilient community is strong, inclusive, and vibrant, as well as forward thinking and economically stable.

Building on this work, and supported by a 2022 Climate Action Award, the SE Iowa Group helped students from two high schools and a college plan a day-long regional climate summit for Earth Day 2023.  The Group used the award funds to secure the County Fairgrounds as the event venue. The Fairgrounds was chosen because it is the home of local 4-H and university extension programs, thus helping bridge the divide between town and rural communities, particularly with students.

– In Washington state, the Sierra Club South Sound Group used its 2022 award to sustain the implementation of Thurston County’s Climate Mitigation Plan.

Beginning in 2018, the Thurston Regional Planning Council and partnering jurisdictions adopted a common emissions baseline designed to help the region reach science-based emission reduction targets. These agreements were informed by a region-specific Emissions Inventory and Analysis conducted by the Thurston Climate Action Team, a local non-profit. Together with  existing climate policies, the communities agreed on a common goal to reduce regional emissions 45% below 2015 levels by 2030 and 85% below 2015 levels by 2050.

The South Sound Group encouraged the public to contact local officials and urge them to adopt the Mitigation Plan and to pass resolutions declaring a climate emergency. Fortunately, all four jurisdictions (Thurston County and the cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater) adopted the Plan and three passed resolutions declaring a climate emergency.

In 2022 the Group supported two different in-person/hybrid events hosted by the Thurston Youth Climate Coalition to educate the public on the county’s mitigation plan and to advocate for implementation of the plan. The Group also supported the creation of a “zine” that is now available in local libraries and coffee shops.

– The Great Waters Group in Wisconsin used a 2022 award to collaborate with a respected neighborhood organization in Milwaukee to survey residents’ attitudes about the severe weather events caused by climate change. The data helped inform the actions of a new statewide coalition working to “enhance the quality of life for all Wisconsinites by accelerating the state’s transformation to a clean economy.” This coalition is advancing six policy pillars: healthy economy, carbon-free power, conservation of our land and water, environmental justice and infrastructure, home and building repair, and next-gen transportation. It is also pushing the Milwaukee City Council to adopt the new Climate and Equity Plan.

Correcting Misinformation

– A growing backlash has developed in Michigan and other states toward energy companies seeking approval for siting wind and solar installations in rural areas. Some of the opposition is based on genuine concern for the destruction of farmland and forests. Other concerns are designed to mislead. The Sierra Club Nepessing Group used its 2022 award to develop and publish a comprehensive pamphlet that confronts the misinformation on solar energy in the state, especially in rural areas. The pamphlet will be given to local and state politicians to promote legislation conducive to renewable energy development, focusing on brownfield sites and in urban areas where abandoned properties make room for community solar projects. Given the “Blue Wave” that swept through Michigan in the November 2022 elections, the pamphlet will be a valuable tool to advance clean energy in the state.

2023 award application deadline is May 31, 2023

Are you ready to mobilize your community to take action that will move us back from the brink of climate disaster? Do any of these examples stimulate thoughts about how your Group or Chapter could work within your community? Could your project use a little financial boost? Check out information about qualifications, selection criteria, and the application process for 2023 Community Climate Action Awards. Applications are due by May 31, 2023.

Richard Rollins leads the Grassroots Network Climate Emergency Mobilization team. If you are interested in joining the team, please reach out to us at climateemergency[at]sfbaysc[dot]org.


Scroll to Top