Concerned about climate change, but don’t know what to do to actually make a difference? Feel a little intimidated to join the conversation? Worried you don’t know enough, or will say the wrong thing?
Well, now’s the time to cast all that doubt aside. Throughout the month of February, the city’s Office of Sustainability will be hosting a series of community workshops on climate change and everyone is invited to attend and help shape the future of Austin’s climate action.
“It’s starting to open up the conversation to include everyone on this topic of climate change,” explained Celine Rendon (a Community Engagement Specialist with the Office of Sustainability), during a recent interview with AEN. “And I think putting more empowerment to it, to understand that everyone has a voice to kind of share and contribute, everyone has a lived experience, everyone has their different a moment of transformation to really contribute to this.”
The whole idea behind these workshops is to better understand community challenges, opportunities, and ideas around climate-related issues, and then to share those thoughts with the local leaders who are working on an update to Austin’s Community Climate Plan.
We sat down with Celine Rendon and Phoebe Romero, from the Office of Sustainability, earlier this week to talk about the climate plan update, its emphasis on equity, and how the public can get involved. You can watch the entire video or check out our summary below.
Wait. What’s a Community Climate Plan?
Austin’s Community Climate Plan was first approved by City Council in 2015, to help Austin reach its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. (That means virtually no emissions from the electricity we use, the things we throw away, or the cars we drive.) The plan included emission reduction targets for 2020, 2030, and 2040, as well as a list of over 130 actions that could be completed by both the city and the community to reduce emissions from energy, transportation and land use, industrial processes, and waste. It was developed in collaboration with city staff (led by the Office of Sustainability) and community leaders.
But now, about five years later, it’s time for an update. This time around, the plan is adding in some new topic areas:
- The things we all buy – most of our food, clothes, etc that we buy isn’t produced here. It’s made somewhere else and then shipped to us, which produces emissions.
- Natural systems – how can we naturally “capture” carbon with trees, soils, agriculture and other natural processes?
And most importantly, this plan update is emphasizing equity and the ways it can intersect with climate action.
“We’re not just creating a plan, we’re really creating a culture, where we’re prioritizing this,” Celine said. “We’re talking about this as a climate justice issue, not just reducing our carbon emissions…This is going to impact everyone. And climate change is not going to impact everyone the same. And that’s why we are leading with race when we talk about this plan.”
Here’s how that’s happening.
Right now, five advisory groups and a steering committee made up of about 130 people (featuring city staff, nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, and technical experts) are meeting monthly to develop targets and action items for the following topics areas:
- Transportation Electrification
- Sustainable Buildings
- Natural Systems
- Transportation and Land Use
- Consumerism/ Consumption
At the same time, the Office of Sustainability is partnering with the city’s Equity Office to apply an equity tool to screen actions and strategies that are coming out of these groups and being proposed for the climate plan. On top of that, 13 Climate Ambassadors are working with the Office of Sustainability to go into their own communities, lead conversations on climate change, and provide ongoing feedback for the plan.
“It’s really courageous, I think, for the folks that are involved in this plan to be doing something like that… It’s creating something different and it’s starting to bring awareness to other folks in the sustainability community,” Celine said.
So how can you get involved?
Attend one of the upcoming community climate workshops! During these events, you’ll have the opportunity to share your ideas and feedback on everything from barriers that keep you from riding your bike more often, to how we can all buy less stuff. The dates and times are listed below:
- Transportation Electrification Community Workshop – Tuesday, February 4th from 5:30pm to 8pm at Town Lake Center
- Sustainable Buildings Community Workshop – Saturday, February 8th from 2pm to 4:30pm at Huston-Tillotson University
- Natural Systems Community Workshop – Tuesday, February 11th from 5:30pm to 8pm the Carver Library
- Transportation and Land Use Community Workshop – Thursday, February 13th from 5:30pm to 8pm at the Carver Library
- Consumerism and Climate Change Community Workshop – Saturday, February 22nd from 10am to 1:30pm (location TBA)
At all of these workshops, food and drinks will be provided, and supervised child activities will be available for kids age 3 and up.
“I think for a long time, the Austin community has been guilty of separating the environment and the natural systems from the people,” Phoebe said during our AEN interview. “And I think that is something we’re also trying to do, is to ensure that the residents are actually seen as part of our climate system… and make it resonate with everybody, not just a few folks.”