Is it a competitive streak, a sense of home-team loyalty, a clannish pride? Something about local climate triumphs gets us fired up—and smart policy advocates in our neck of the woods are tapping into that spirit to build momentum for important regional policy measures.
I know because I just spent a few weeks poring over dozens of newspaper articles covering climate questions to better understand how journalists in the Northwest and beyond are covering policy solutions. We were looking at who’s quoted and what spokespeople are saying—in favor and against climate policy.
The good news is that there’s a steady stream of coverage, particularly here in the Northwest where climate legislation is in play in city and county governments, state capitols, and on a regional level. The bad news: a lot of coverage plays up the political wrangling involved in any kind of big new policy direction, emphasizing partisan differences and a drawn out process.
But one theme that struck a chord for me as a momentum-builder was the invocation of local pride—and local opportunities. Washington governor Christine Gregoire’s constant refrain sums it up well: “The future of our economy, the future of our great state is at stake.”
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Another main message from savvy leaders? In lieu of federal action, local and regional entities are stepping up to the plate and answering the public’s louder and louder call for forward-thinking, direct action.
“Global warming is the single biggest threat to California’s environment and our public health,” Bernadette Del Chiaro of Environment California told a state paper. “With this agreement, California is taking a historic step in saying we’re going to get serious, lead the way and solve this problem.”
Another smart move we found: climate policy advocates making a habit of highlighting diverse support for climate initiatives. When local and regional business leaders get on board and party lines are crossed, policy gains credibility.
Keen spokespeople have also been pointing to the economic opportunities tied to effective policy measures that combat climate change. Policy gets a boost when it has the potential to boost local economies and create “green-collar jobs.” For example, Oregon’s Governor Ted Kulongoski was quoted in one article: “It is also a huge economic development opportunity, particularly for those states who are most aggressive in leading the charge toward a clean energy future.”
The best economic opportunity messages were also the most concrete. Van Jones quoted in the New York Times: “You can’t take a building you want to weatherize, put it on a ship to China and then have them do it and send it back. So we are going to have to put people to work in this country – weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, constructing wind farms. Those green-collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college.”
Don’t get me wrong; while local action is good—even great—national and international legislation will be crucial when it comes to climate. But, as policy advocates were smart to point out in the stories we studied, regional efforts can be important legwork for an eventual federal program—and by doing climate policy right at a regional level, local leaders can help ensure that a federal system following in their footsteps is effective and fair.
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said it eloquently: “We can now move forward with developing a market-based system that makes California a world leader in the effort to reduce carbon emissions. The success of our system will be an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues.”
There’s something about the triumph of local communities that really motivates us—rooting for the home team. Our analysis of pro-policy messaging suggests leaders are smart to tap into a groundswell of local spirit – whether a competitive streak or simply a sense of local pride—to add momentum to climate legislation in the Northwest—and then beyond.