Climate Progress Depends on Local Democracy

“Forget the national level, forget the state level; if you really want to make a difference on climate change, focus on the local level,” said Rocky Piro, a former local planning director in Colorado at a conference sponsored by the Climate Democracy Initiative.

The Climate Democracy Initiative (CDI) held its second annual conference in Denver last month to discuss strategies for addressing climate change and public engagement. It’s worth stating the full mission of CDI: “Our vision is a democracy that empowers community leaders to fully recognize and effectively address the catastrophic impacts of global warming. We envision a populace that understands the interconnectedness of government, business, academia, nonprofit initiatives, as well as the planet’s key life-sustaining support systems.”

At the Denver conference participants discussed a wide array of angles for addressing climate change, including changes to governmental, nonprofit organizing, faith-based, and changes to journalism.

“To fix the climate, you have to fix government and to fix government, you have to fix journalism,” said COLAB Executive Director, Laura Frank. Other speakers cited the importance of improvements to journalism: “We need to have functioning journalism to have a functioning democracy,” said Battinto Batts, Dean of the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

David Sirota, the author behind the movie, Don’t Look Up, said that “media works to distract us. It treats politics like sports for entertainment value.” Regarding climate, Sirota said, “media errs in presenting the false narrative that there are two legitimate points of view, giving equal voice to a side that doesn’t have demonstrable facts.”

Still, the speakers on journalism noted that there is reason to hope. “We have hit bottom and are on our way up in terms of local journalism,” said Batts. “We have to take this distrust (of media) and build something constructive of it,” said Sirota. And Laura Frank noted that there are countless examples of innovation in local journalism involving nonprofits, academia and entrepreneurs.

It is important for state and local governments to show leadership on climate change, noted Jon Goldin-Dubois, President at Western Resource Advocates. “We can’t afford to wait for Democrats and Republicans to agree on everything. If government takes action people will follow. Ten years from now, for example, everyone will want an electric car, because it’s a superior product.”

“I gathered a lot of hope and a lot less contention coming out of here,” said Benzel Jimmerson, a conference facilitator and Chief Visionary Officer for Metro DEEP. “It’s great to hear this kind of inspiration and solutions that will work.”

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