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Tapping the Power of Emerging Leaders for Climate Resilience

Washington is facing critical climate resilience challenges.

Our communities’ well-being relies on our collective “resilience” — the ability of our institutions, infrastructure, and environment to withstand stresses and shocks. Evidence increasingly demonstrates that climate change poses a significant threat to the resilience of Washington’s communities. As the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) noted in their 2021 Climate Resilience Handbook (Handbook), climate change poses a present threat to “life, health, and property,” stands to “increase economic risk,” and is expected to challenge the “reliability and consistency of services.”

Local Governments: Critical to any Effective Response

While Washington State has set ambitious goals to tackle climate resilience challenges, as many local practitioners know well, a successful statewide response is dependent on the plans and programs deployed by local governments. AWC’s Handbook notes the central role for local governments in meeting these goals. This outlook was bolstered by MRSC’s recent Local Climate Response Survey, which included responses from 164 individuals from jurisdictions across the state. A majority of survey respondents had “significant concerns about the impacts of climate change,” while also recognizing abundant “opportunity for local climate-related action.” However, and perhaps most importantly, “local governments need resources and expertise to meaningfully address climate effects.” As the survey summary notes, despite their central role, local agencies lack the capacity to better “engage with community members most impacted by climate change, identify and reduce sources of local greenhouse gas emissions, and take measures to adapt to/become more resilient to climate impacts.”

The Power of Emerging Leadership to Close the Capacity Gap

In over a decade of leading climate resilience work at CivicSpark, we have consistently seen that local governments — particularly in low-income and/or frontline communities — must prioritize current needs over emerging challenges, especially when it comes to something complex and evolving like climate change. So how might we start to close this critical capacity gap? Significant state and national leadership as well as resources are going to be essential, but we also can’t wait for the stars to align in Olympia or Washington D.C. Rather, we can look closer to home to tap into the power of the people around us.

Across the country young people are actively engaging in climate action efforts and looking for ways to make a difference. Local agencies can benefit from this human resource through climate service programs such as those based on AmeriCorps and Conservation Corps. While the recent Civilian Climate Corps proposal has stalled, it has drawn a lot of attention to climate service as a potential tool for climate action, and it’s one we think all local agencies might benefit from exploring. In the following paragraphs, we’ll describe an exciting new climate service opportunity for Washington local governments via CivicSpark.

How CivicSpark Can Increase Capacity for Climate-Related Work Within Washington Communities

CivicSpark — a program that has been supporting public sector climate resilience capacity in California since 2014  — is expanding its reach to Washington and Colorado. CivicSpark matches Fellows with local organizations to provide additional capacity for climate action, with Fellows serving for a period of 11 months. To date, 600+ CivicSpark Fellows have completed nearly 1000 projects with local public organizations. Here are a couple of examples from Fellows serving in California local governments to illustrate the potential.

  • Zack Reda served with the City of Pleasanton in 2018-19. He developed and shared a detailed analysis of benefits and risks of a new regional clean energy program for the community. His report helped Pleasanton’s leaders decide to sign up to provide more clean energy choices to residents and businesses. Zack was subsequently hired to be the city’s first Energy and Sustainability Coordinator.
  • In 2017-18, Nikki Powell served with the City of Long Beach's Water Department where she helped scale up a restaurant water conservation program. She completed 90 surveys, certified 32 restaurants, and identified over 2 million gallons of potential annual water savings. The program has since received two awards and Nikki went on to become an Environmental Specialist

As these examples highlight, climate service programs can be impactful because they marry two key pieces of the climate puzzle – helping realize community outcomes today and growing necessary leadership for tomorrow – delivering a win-win for everyone involved.

Sounds great. How do we get involved?

CivicSpark is currently identifying placement sites for 20 Fellows for the 2022-23 Washington State program. Fellows are AmeriCorps Members selected through a competitive national application process. Fellows have at minimum a college degree in a relevant field, as well as workplace and community service experience.

The service year runs from September 2022 - August 2023, so interested public organizations are encouraged to register for an upcoming webinar and apply by June 1, 2022. Public agencies, state agencies, Tribes, and non-profit organizations can all host CivicSpark Fellows. CivicSpark positions are funded in part by AmeriCorps, and in part by participating local organizations. The cost per Fellow is $29,000 for their 11 months of service.

Done well, climate service programs like CivicSpark can offer Washington’s local governments a significant resource to help them focus more on emerging climate needs. If we can engage and support them, they can be an important part of accelerating local solutions. So, let’s open the doors, turn on the lights, invite them in, and get to work.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Kif Scheuer

About Kif Scheuer

Kif Scheuer is a Strategy and Project Lead with Farallon Strategies, LLC. Kif has been fortunate to play an instrumental role in the launch, implementation, and growth of three national service programs: the California Adaptation Forum, and a statewide and national network of adaptation collaborators. His work at the intersection of community and climate resilience and leadership development gives him a unique expertise in capacity building, stakeholder engagement, and strategy development. Prior to Farallon Strategies, spent 15 years in a range of nonprofit and state governments roles building and deploying national service and climate action programs.

The views expressed in guest columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

Photo of Mackenzie Bolger

About Mackenzie Bolger

Mackenzie Bolger is the Senior Manager for CivicSpark, an award-winning AmeriCorps program that has collectively provided over 500,000 hours of service to local communities. In this role, Mackenzie works to advance equitable community engagement and social change by leading program strategy, partner development, and staff support. Mackenzie has been with CivicWell since 2016 when she joined the team after serving a year as a CivicSpark Fellow herself.