These days, I am finding it harder not to notice the extreme fluctuations in temperatures. One day might be 60 degrees while the next could easily be 0 degrees. These changes make me cringe, partially because of my absentmindedness for not remembering my coat, but also because deep down, I know these extreme changes are part of global warming.
We all know climate change is a big problem and how it has devastating effects all around the globe. Through the news and climate activism, we know that we are in a climate crisis, and unless something drastic is done, there is little to no hope for humanity. For many, being confronted with this bleak reality is just too overwhelming to deal with. For those who are motivated to do something, it is unclear how to pursue and achieve these goals on an individual level, be effective and have an actual impact within their community. All of us have things to do, places to go and in general have limited free time that we do not want to waste by doing busy work. Sadly, the stereotypical governance structure where people are shuffling papers, talking in circles and getting little to nothing done is often one of the reasons why so many people do not see the purpose of working or participating in their local village, town, or city government.
However, this does not have to be the case.
The Ithaca Sunrise Movement, a coalition of young people promoting local climate action, has been a key player in actively getting people, from children to college graduates, involved in local politics and government. In 2019 alone, by attending and actively participating in common council meetings and debates, the group was able to get the City of Ithaca to pass the Green New Deal. While this was clearly a success for Sunrise, the journey has only just begun, as the group continues to fight for the City government to develop and commit to a plan in order to actually implement this GND. Why are these goals not already clearly established? While you might be right to expect this, it is important to remember that the original GND is more like a vision, rather than a step-by-step guidebook for municipalities to become more sustainable. In other words, it is up to the local government to establish and set concrete goals and actions toward getting off of fossil fuels and developing strategy toward creating a regionally sustainable and equitable community. This has been a struggle, to say the least. As a person who frequents municipal meetings for work, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is just to attend and show that you are a concerned citizen who is invested while at the same time holding your elected representatives accountable.
So, given that we are in a climate emergency, what is it that you can do as an individual to help? Through my experience thus far, no matter what your background, it is worth your time just to start attending one of your community’s municipal board or council meetings. But don’t stop there. Become an actively involved board or committee member either in your local government just by simply asking one of the existing members after the meeting how to get involved. You might eventually even consider running for office. And finally, join a group that fights for action towards climate change, like the Ithaca Sunrise Movement, which welcomes anyone who is interested, and can be found through local events that are posted on its facebook page. And again, it does not matter whether or not you feel you have something to contribute; there is always room and work to be done, and by working together we can all make amazing things happen.