When the Carrboro Town Council adopted its Community Climate Action Plan in 2017, it promised to emphasize integrating climate action with social justice and equity initiatives. Two years later, the Town still struggles to address all the obstacles preventing everyone in the community from participating.
In January 2017, the Carrboro Town Council accepted the CCAP, which proposed that the Town adopt a goal of a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. One recommendation of the plan called on the Town to implement strategies to make energy more affordable to meet its equity goals, including federal grants, community programs and town ordinances.
The plan proposed recommendations surrounding the themes of community integration, energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, renewable energy, food choices and ecosystem protection and restoration.
Council Member Randee Haven-O'Donnell said she believes in the importance of equity, and realized that working on policy initiatives without a tool to integrate the community carried little value.
“Policymakers make the mistake of expecting communities to adopt strategies for improving without taking context into account,” she said.
The Town is currently working toward the organization and implementation of a series of workshops that align with the goals of the Community Climate Action Plan, and toward heightened audience engagement.
According to the plan, low-income households spend 24 percent of their income on energy costs. The Town has made an effort to address the problem at its root. The plan states that to make housing affordable, the Town must do more than just lower mortgage payments and rent, but also take a look at how to lower utility bills.
Haven-O'Donnell said the tools offered must connect interested community members with the takeaways they want.
The Town of Carrboro RainReady Program and the Town of Chapel Hill have engaged the assistance of the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) to address disparities in climate impacts and broaden the reach of solutions to extreme weather. CNT aims to provide community solutions based on sustainability and equitability principles.
Radhika Kattula, a UNC junior environmental studies major, said she applauds the Town’s efforts to promote engagement and notes the unity promoted by such initiatives.
"Efforts like the Town of Carrboro’s Climate Action Plan are significant in that they really take a grassroots network of citizens actively stepping into the political process and saying that (they) want to make the transition to a more sustainable community and fight climate change now more than ever," Kattula said. "That is, collective climate action occurring at a level of government where change is not only quicker to happen, but also directly impacts constituents.”
One of the main obstacles when it comes to the Town’s community engagement efforts has been accounting specifically for lower-income individuals within the community, and the barriers they may face in the fight for climate justice.
These include a technology barrier that disproportionately affects low-income and non-white individuals, making them unable to participate in online engagement, as well as a transportation barrier, which often serves as a challenge for low-income community members when it comes to meeting attendance.
The Town is aware of and working to address these obstacles. The plan describes increasing middle and upper-class households taking advantage of lower solar installation costs, a switch made easier by income tax credits and access to financing. The plan says this transition may be inaccessible to lower-income households.
Allison De Marco, a social scientist focusing on racial equity and social justice and adjunct faculty member at UNC’s School of Social Work, emphasizes the importance of genuine and intentional outreach.
“When we think about community engagement, we want to go beyond community outreach to think about how to be authentically inclusive of parts of our community that have been historically marginalized," she said. "This hopefully means engaging with those communities at the very start of an effort and giving them space to shape what their participation and engagement will look like."
Kattula said it is important to note student activism when it comes to environmental justice.
“On a more local level, for example in Chapel Hill, it is important that we students recognize that we aren’t just a part of UNC, but we’re also a part of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community," she said. "We have a direct impact on local resources, the environment, housing and beyond, even if we’re here for only four years."