Civic Engagement in American Climate Policy:
Collaborative Models

Newly published on Tisch College’s CivicGreen website is “Civic Engagement in American Climate Policy: Collaborative Models,” a report from CivicGreen in cooperation with the Center for Communities by Design, the American Institute of Architects, and the Kettering Foundation. Carmen Sirianni has been a key organizer of this work, along with Ann Ward and others.

The report is a detailed guide to incorporating public engagement and public work in addressing the climate crisis. It’s not about public advocacy or popular pressure to enact environmental policies, but rather the public’s role in implementing policies–from local planning to paid service jobs that offer pathways to green careers. It draws on extensive experience with:

  • sustainable cities and local climate planning
  • collaborative environmental justice and the EPA’s CARE program
  • community design and public interest design
  • urban and community forestry
  • collaborative community conservation and ecosystem management
  • environmental education
  • coastal management and sea level rise
  • civilian conservation and climate corps
  • citizen science
  • digital and geospatial mapping tools
  • climate and science communication
  • civic professional practice and training

I observe some environmentalists framing public engagement as basically a barrier to efficient climate policy. They fear that NIMBY citizen organizations may block green projects or divert funds that were intended for climate to other purposes, thus weakening their impact.

I also see some progressives trying to redefine environmental policies to accomplish other social-justice goals using money that was earmarked for climate. I get their motivations, but diverting funds threatens climate outcomes.

In my view, public engagement is essential for making green investments actually work for their intended purposes. For instance, funds for public transportation will only cut carbon emissions if people ride the new trains and buses–and communities know what transit is needed. If more people are paid to address climate problems in their daily work, the constituency for environmental reform will grow, especially if these workers are organized, not only to advocate for wages (which is good) but also to address environmental issues. Public engagement must go well, which is by no means inevitable. This new report offers detailed, experienced-based recommendations.

See also: the major shift in climate strategy;  A Civic Green New Deal; and the Green New Deal and civic renewal

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.