Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
– Margaret Mead
In my last piece on the environment, we talked about how if we want to effect real change, we need to push for system-level change.
We’re going to start with local government.
Why? Two reasons:
- Your local, municipal-level government is the one that is going to be (or already is) hardest hit by environmental problems, and the related social problems. Polluted water? A problem for your local water treatment plant. Flooding? Your local EMS teams. Heat waves? Also your local EMS teams. Terrible air quality? Your local hospitals, overcrowded and struggling. Too much trash? Your tax bill, inflated by waste management fees.
- Your local government is the one you have the most direct access to, especially if you live in a smaller community.
So, how can we get systemic change at the local level?
First, pick a single issue and a desired outcome. Yes, there are a lot of things you could try to fix, but if you approach your local government with a laundry list you’ll get exactly nowhere. One thing at a time.
Here are some suggested issues and desired outcomes:
- Plastic pollution: Ban the use of any plastic item (or even all single-use plastic items in your municipality). Sometimes people laugh at plastic straw or plastic bag bans as being silly, but every time one of these goes into effect, it shrinks the market for plastic products, and sends a message that we’re fed up with plastic pollution.
- Air pollution: ‘No car’ zones in your municipality. This reduces air pollution, increases use of public transportation, and starts forcing your city planners to think in terms of making your city more walkable or better for bikes. (This also improves health outcomes).
- Electrified transportation infrastructure: Are there enough car chargers in your city? Are there by-laws in place to prevent fossil cars from parking in charging spots? Are there by-laws in place to help condo and apartment dwellers secure charging spots? Are your public transit options based on renewable energy?
- Electricity supply: Has your local utility upgraded to renewable energy or is it still burning coal? Are you allowed to set up your own microgrid or is that against the law?
- Trash: Does your municipality have an organic waste (composting) system? Is recycling collected more often than trash? How much stuff can be recycled in your city?
- Native vs invasive plants: Does your city have any by-laws about what plants the local nurseries can sell? If they’re not selling native plants can you at least get a ban on harmful, invasive plant sales?
- Invasive plants part two: What steps is your city taking to tackle invasives like phragmites, dog strangling vine, knotweed (or whatever is a problem in your region)?
How to Take Action
There are three ways you can take action at the local government level.
- Email your representatives. Email them all, either all at once, or one per week. (Put it in your calendar!) Describe the problem, describe your solution, show how your solution would benefit to the taxpayer. Forward news stories from other cities where your solution has been successfully implemented. If you can work out which bureaucrats and front line workers would be responsible for implementing your solution, email them too.
- Form an action group! Get a bunch of people emailing councillors, attending meetings, circulating a petition, chanting in front of city hall, and so on. Remember, there’s strength in numbers! (Pro tip for getting other people on board: Invite them personally, don’t just put out a general call.)
- Run for office. This might sound daunting, but you just need to remember that there’s nothing particularly special about the people who have run for office before. You don’t even have to win a seat (although obviously it’s better if you do). Running for council gives you the chance to go door to door to talk to people about your issue and get them on board.
Remember: be specific. Don’t just talk in general terms about zero waste or climate change. Give your local council something they can action. Give them something that would make them look good to voters.
What issue are you going to approach your council about? Comment below.