Communities tackle climate change without politics

December 01, 2010
Adriene Hill
Amercian Public Media - Marketplace

While big policymakers in the U.N. consider climate change resolutions at the summit in Cancun, some communities back here in the U.S. are tackling environmental problems on their own. Even if they don't consider it that way. Adriene Hill reports.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: No one expects any major international agreements to emerge from the UN climate summit in Cancun. But stalled talks in climate policy at the international level haven't stopped some communities from tackling the problem in all sorts of ways...

From the Marketplace Sustainability desk, Adriene Hill profiles the small town of Sandpoint, Idaho.

Adriene Hill: Sandpoint is a "Transition Town," which means it's part of an international movement of communities with a big goal: preparing for life after cheap oil and climate change. But here in Idaho -- one of the reddest states there is -- the members of the Sandpoint Transition Initiative don't talk about it that way.

John Reuter: Sandpoint is a very diverse community here in north Idaho. We have everyone from hippies to right-wingers, so when we start using words like "sustainability" or "environmental," people get angry.

John Reuter is the City Council President in this 8,000-person town; he's a Republican. He and the Democratic mayor are not part of the Sandpoint Transition Initiative, but both support its projects.

One of the group's leaders, Karen Lanphear, says it's important that the group not use language that's divisive or political; instead framing changes as good for people and the community.

Karen Lanphear: We have to find a way to shift the paradigm so we start to talk to each other in a really respectful and civil manner, and I think we're modeling that.

There's a folk school where people learn from their elders -- rather than say, learning the skills they might need if society shuts down. And there's a community garden, a place to grow community, a place for kids to play -- rather than learn how to make their own food in case one day they can't bring it from other parts of the world.

Lanphear: People would have just said, 'Oh just another ratty haired liberal. I'm not going to listen to her, why should I bother? No!'

That garden, off two busy roads in the middle of town, is sparse this time of year. But Transition Initiative member Pat Wentworth says it's bustling in summertime. And the idea is spreading.

Pat Wentworth: People have come up to me and said,'I are started our own garden at home because we saw what was happening here.'

That take away -- that germination of a small idea to something bigger -- seems to be an important part of what small communities can do to take on climate change. Even if they never, ever say those words.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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