The city of Cedar Rapids is hosting an event Tuesday to unveil a community climate action plan. City staff, Community Climate Advisory Committee members and community organizations who are seen as leaders in sustainability will attend the event, according to the city.
The plan, which will be unveiled at Cedar Rapids Public Library, aims to lead the city toward reducing carbon emissions. They will begin transitioning to mostly or entirely renewable energy by 2050, and the city hopes this will better the health of the residences as well.
The Community Climate Advisory Committee and city staff worked with Cedar Rapids to center equity in drafting the plan. They did this through its survey outreach and in-person meetings to address and understand how climate change disproportionately burdens some residents based on their socioeconomic status, access to transportation and language barriers.
The plan will set strategies such as funding, partnerships and programs in order to reach long-term climate goals.
The council will consider approving the draft plan and making it final at its Sept. 28 meeting.
Barbara Eckstein’s environmental interest was a product of place. Her first jobs were in New Orleans, “where class and race and environmental degradation are very present,” she said. “So the need for activism on the behalf of those causes was just very apparent.”
When she came to teach at the University of Iowa, an urban and regional planning professor introduced her to sustainability, which was a useful model for pulling her interests together into her second book, Sustaining New Orleans.
The English professor has since spent her career studying, advocating for and writing about racism, environmentalism and the relationships between the two. She’s also addressing climate change.
Eckstein’s other environmental-literary interest? Mosquitos! Learn more here.
“Locally, what I saw was on the one hand an interesting, deep commitment in Iowa to Iowa as a political entity…and a distance from the climate change conversations that scientists and others were having at the universities and the colleges in Iowa,” Eckstein said.
Together with various students and colleagues, she has spent years creating the People’s Weather Map, an online collection of stories about extreme weather in every Iowa county from both the recent and distant past.
The target audience, she said, ranges from the dubious to the concerned: not the alarmed, and not the explicit deniers, who she said have a political stake in denial and remain a significant portion of the U.S. population. Eckstein instead wants to help people understand the complex links between climate change and extreme weather.
The most important audience for climate communication, she said, is “Implicatory Deniers.” These are people who are convinced by climate science but have struggled to adjust their lifestyles accordingly.
“We live this double consciousness, where we fully believe it, but we take plane trips to Bora Bora at the drop of a hat if we can afford it,” she said.
Listen for more of Eckstein’s thoughts on climate denial.
Narrative can be a powerful tool to sway such people. Eckstein referenced a model in which a human figure stands at the center of several concentric circles, each representing a psychological barrier to personal climate action, starting with “Identity.” An arrow representing stories attempts to pass through the circles.
“As a person who studies and writes about literature and who is a writer, I think ‘Oh my God. What a huge responsibility!’” Eckstein exclaimed.
Readers often identify themselves in stories, she said, but carefully written ones can bend their self-perception. Eckstein hopes the stories told in the People’s Weather Map can help readers think about the places they live in a new light.
“We want the story to be familiar and then not,” she said. “Pull people in with the familiarity, and then turn it so there’s capacity to learn from the story.”
Stories also provide vicarious experience. Readers can learn from the mistakes and decision making of characters instead of making their own mistakes.
But some stories are even more valuable than others.
“I think we need to hear more from those people that we know generally are more vulnerable to a changing climate,” Eckstein said.
Hear Eckstein’s plans for the future of the People’s Weather Map.
The environmental movement is inherently a social movement, but it has not always been (and still sometimes fails to be) socially oriented and inclusive. She said environmentalists have some racism to live down and must do all they can imagine to heal the rift with those who have faced social injustice.
“We have to just kind of go out there and try to undo it, by being present and listening,” she said. “Not by telling people ‘Here’s our schtick.’”
***This post is part of “CGRER Looks Forward,” a blog series running every other Friday. We aim to introduce readers to some of our members working across a wide breadth of disciplines, to share what the planet’s future looks like from their perspectives and the implications of environmental research in their fields. ***
Episode 9 of the EnvIowa Podcast gives an inside look at how the City of Iowa City created its climate plan. We spoke with the Iowa City Sustainability Coordinator Brenda Nations, about her role in the planning process, and about why Iowa City needs a climate action plan. CGRER member Charles Stanier was a part of the steering committee that provided input for the climate action plan, and helped to personalize the plan to fit Iowa City. He provided context for this EnvIowa episode about what it was like being a member of the steering committee and implementing a climate action plan in his community.
The Iowa City Climate Action Plan has ambitious goals—like aiming to reduce Iowa City emissions by 80% by 2050. Take a peek at this episode of EnvIowa to learn more about the process of creating this plan!