By Benjamin Miramontes, California Climate Action Corps Fellow
Benjamin Miramontes joined us this summer as a California Climate Action Corps Fellow with a focus on researching climate action plans, disaster planning and environmental resources in the county. In this blog, they offer their observations and reflections on what they discovered in the process.
Exploring the maze of climate policy and advocacy in Solano County over the summer has left a strange picture in my head. While proposed countywide and city-specific ordinances around climate change are a seemingly comprehensive labyrinth of hazard projections and safety updates, the end result seems to be akin to boards being tacked onto a ship that is already taking on water. Similarly, advocates who are doing important work and aren’t collaborating with others leaves a lot to be desired in terms of meeting the needs of any given community. Climate policy and the state of advocacy in Solano County leaves me — a young person who will experience the increasingly malignant effects of climate change — fearing what a continued trend of meeting the bare minimum and a lack of communication means for our future.This summer, I was accepted to become a California Climate Action Fellow, and through their network I began conducting auditing and research efforts for Sustainable Solano. I have found the experience valuable in teaching me about Solano County’s politics in addition to those of the Bay Area as a whole. While the experience has been overwhelmingly pleasant in terms of preferable scheduling, interesting projects, and respect for my time outside the office, I cannot help but be concerned for the nature of climate change policy being implemented today.
The first proverbial elephant in the room was the disconnect between the myriad of small organizations across the region. This disconnect is a common one, some could call it “silo think.” Generally speaking, it is the separation or lack of communication and collaboration between different groups that are working on the same efforts. I am not stating that all organizations in the Bay should form an amorphous hive-mind. Rather, I cannot help but wish there was more happening after tuning into this sphere for the first time in years. I wonder daily about the organization’s place in local politics and environmentally oriented work, let alone the place of nonprofits in their vast array of efforts across the nation.
I have met some clearly passionate people working in nonprofits and citizen organizations who have been doing important work for their communities over the last few decades. I struggle to reconcile with the fact that these groups do not collaborate as much as they could. Different groups have different projects with different angles. That is a good thing, and that is the inherent nature of grassroots organization. However, the lack of outreach I perceive is worrying. There should be more room for these groups to meet regularly, maybe even elect their own leaders to act as moderators for large gatherings. Why are there so few groups coming together to form larger coalitions when their issues are so closely aligned? An organization advocating for bike lanes, a coalition of tree planters, and a group organizing for green infrastructure all want different things, but are still oriented in parallel. I hope that the leaders in these groups begin pushing to meet and work together with one another at larger scales, for example, bringing in resources from Benicia or Vacaville to help push for policy somewhere else in the county, like Vallejo. I am imploring nonprofits and city governments to communicate more openly about their different projects and needs, so they can better support each other in the work they do.
Another worrying trend I am noticing is the nature of climate policy here in Solano County. New plans are drafted for evacuation in the event of a fire, levees are built to withstand greater floods, and so on. This policy is not bad by any means, but it is largely reactive, and in the case of something like building a levee or trenches for flooding, it is particularly static. There is not a lot of policy in place in terms of “pre-emptive” mitigation or adaptation. In particular, I am referring to policy which takes some of our changes in climate and creates advantages out of them. For example, why are we not saving every bit of rainwater that we can? Cities across the country are utilizing stormwater for green spaces in cities, which can help provide cleaner and cooler air for residents, particularly in neighborhoods or hub areas which have been historically underserved. Cities should take advantage of the funding they can use to invest in green infrastructure and energy for government buildings, homes and multi-unit housing. While tax benefits and breaks are granted to those who install solar panels, could we develop programs to help provide those same underserved communities or struggling small businesses with solar power? In short, cities should collaborate with one another and strive to address multiple issues at once with each new environmental ordinance.
In the end, these are just some ideas I want to bring to you to help percolate thought, and hopefully, action. Putting time, money, and effort into green programs and projects now will pay dividends in the future. This was also meant to serve as a surface level introduction into the role of nonprofits and grassroots organizations in Solano County. I implore you to do research into this if it interests you.