Building climate engagement by giving citizens resources to prepare for extreme weather, create resilience plans, and take action on climate
Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW) is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to educate, organize, and support volunteers to build local and regional resilience to climate change through community service and inclusive planning. We aim to develop nodes of citizen volunteers across the nation equipped with the resources to prepare their neighborhoods for extreme weather events and long-term climate changes, protect vulnerable neighbors during and after extreme weather events, and prevent the worst impacts of climate change advancing actionable, effective, and equitable solutions.
The national CREW team will support these community-based nodes by creating an online platform that collects and synthesizes resilience research into usable strategies and facilitates collaboration and exchange between citizens working on climate service projects across the country. We will also hold in-person semi-annual workshops that bring together experts in climate resilience and emergency management with local CREW volunteers to create opportunities for partnerships and strategy development.
By developing networks of local citizen volunteers equipped to take action to improve local resilience we aim to both create more resilient communities and build long-term citizen engagement with climate change. First, by grounding our work in community-specific education and meaningful action and service, CREW will help equip communities – especially those most vulnerable – to respond to the short- and long-term threats climate change poses to local health, equity, and livelihoods. Second, community engagement to build local resilience will grow support for more comprehensive climate action. CREW’s emphasis on concrete resilience service projects will help grow engagement and support for broader climate change efforts among citizens for whom climate change may feel overwhelming large and difficult to conceptualize.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW) is a nonprofit in the early stages of formation that aims to mobilize and capacitate citizen volunteers to engage in resilience preparation and extreme weather response. CREW’s model involves equipping community-based teams of volunteer leaders with the training, organizational structures, and technological support needed to build local and regional climate resilience. Through in-person and on-line engagement, we will support teams across the nation in designing resilience plans, carrying out climate service activities, and sharing their most compelling stories and most effective intervention strategies with communities across the nation. Each CREW team will focus on three areas: preparing their neighborhoods for local climate changes, protecting vulnerable neighbors during and after extreme weather events, and preventing the worst impacts of climate change advancing actionable, effective, and equitable solutions. Through these activities, CREW will aim to help address three interconnected problems that today’s climate advocacy efforts do not effectively solve.
Problem 1: Climate Change is Already Impacting Communities.
Today, U.S. communities are threatened both by more frequent and severe extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, and flooding and by ongoing shifts in baseline temperature and precipitation trends (IPCC, 2014). These changes are disproportionately burdening society’s most vulnerable – especially low-income communities and communities of color. To address the threats that these changes pose, experts, policymakers, and community organizers alike have called for an increased focus on climate resilience initiatives.
Yet with some notable exceptions, government entities have for the most part failed to initiate in the comprehensive resilience policies that will be vital to effectively addressing climate change threats (Tompkins and Cogswell, 2016). The implementation and success of such widespread policy initiatives will require advocacy and support from citizens and nonprofit organizations. Both in the United States and globally, mobilization of citizen volunteers has provided vital support to education and planning as well as disaster response during and after extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Harvey (e.g. Bahadur and Tanner, 2014; Tierney, 2009. Yet there remains a huge need to organize and mobilize civic engagement effectively.
Solution--> CREW Builds Resilience.
CREW teams will help to support and build local resilience efforts across the country by educating residents about the local impacts of climate change, organizing community service projects that prepare neighborhoods for extreme weather and slower climate shifts, and assisting vulnerable residents during and after extreme weather events.
Problem 2: Climate Change is Complex and Overwhelming.
The impacts of climate change are global in nature and will play out over centuries. In the absence of adequate education and engagement, it can be difficult for many to conceptualize how these changes will affect their communities and identify concrete, meaningful ways to address these impacts at a local level. Indeed, a recent study shows that even those who are concerned about climate change often do not take action on the issue; although more than 70% of Americans are wary that climate change may be causing harm, only about 5% of Americans would be ‘definitely willing’ to be part of a campaign to contact elected officials about climate change (Roser-Renouf et al., 2016).
There are a number of reasons that even concerned Americans may not engage in climate change activism, many of them rooted in the challenge of conceptualizing a large-scale problem with widespread, long-term impacts. Given that only 40% of Americans think that climate change might affect them directly, many citizens may not feel the urgency to act (Marlon et al., 2016). Additionally, psychology studies have shown that the extent to which people feel they can help alleviate climate change actually impacts their sense of urgency; those who feel helpless are more likely to engage in denial (e.g. Swim, et al., 2009; Leiserowitz, 2004 and 2005; Gifford, 2008). This cycle of inaction can be self-perpetuating; when people feel they have no control over a large-scale problem, they are less likely to try to help solve it (Olson, 1965).
An opportunity exists to escape this cycle of denial and inaction, however: engaging in concrete service projects to address climate impacts at the local level. Though many Americans are hesitant to participate in policy activism, many do get involved in service projects in their homes and communities. One Gallup poll showed that while over 85% of Americans voluntarily recycle and conserve energy, less than 20% have contacted an elected official about the environment (Dunlap, 2010). At the same time, another poll showed that 65% of adults engage in some form of volunteerism (Gallup Editors, 2013). There are far more Americans concerned about climate change and willing to act on it than currently are.
Solution--> CREW Contextualizes Climate Change and Enables Action.
CREW teams will educate communities about the relationship between shifting local weather patterns and climate pollution. They will create opportunities for residents to respond meaningfully to these changes by participating in concrete, collaborative service projects and advocating for proactive resilience plans at the community and state levels.
Problem 3: Climate Change Advocacy is Limited by Partisan Divides.
The fossil fuel industry has turned climate change into an at time divisive, partisan issue. Ultimately, though, these divisions benefit only the fossil fuel industry itself and prevent us from working toward the comprehensive, creative solutions that addressing climate change requires. Indeed, climate change inaction can perpetuate inertia across an entire community; studies on the psychology of conceptualizing climate change have found that when people do not see their peers taking action to address a problem they are less likely to take action themselves. For instance, one study found that if shown the average energy consumption patterns in their neighborhood, homeowners tend to change their energy consumption to align more closely with their neighbors’ (Schultz et al., 2007).
Solution--> CREW Emphasizes Community Service and Constructive Solutions.
By prioritizing education and service, CREW teams will engage values that transcend partisan politics such as empathy, collaboration, and service. They will support positive, productive and actionable measures to address and reduce climate changes that help build a collective, enduring sense of urgency and commitment to climate justice. Moreover, by collaborating with their neighbors and communities, moreover, CREW volunteers will see the extent to which their peers are also concerned about climate change, helping to create a mutually-reinforcing cycle of climate action within and between communities.
In the short term, our organizational goal will be to support the development of resilience initiatives in two pilot communities through research on the most effective and current resilience interventions, the development of an online platform for sharing resources, the organization of a two-day workshop for June 2018 to launch community service efforts, and ongoing strategic and logistical support for each CREW site. Below is a timeline outlining activities for our first 3 years.
2017: Research and Outreach
- Launch CREW website and continue to update website as an online forum to facilitate sharing of resilience resources, tools, and strategies.
- Plan and put out a call for pilot communities to become the first CREW nodes. Review projects and select 2 pilot sites; communities will apply to participate in a 2-day resilience workshop that would be conducted in June 2018. Additional activities and plans for sites would develop through workshop discussions and subsequent follow-up.
- Conduct thorough research on the resilience projects that already exist globally, as well as the existing literature on theories and best practices that has been developed by scholars, scientists, and activists. Reach out as appropriate to relevant and/or nearby organizations and individuals working on climate resilience.
- Catalog and synthesize research into a format that facilitates easy access and application of strategies for use in the spring 2017 CREW pilot node launch workshop, as well as for future reference by CREW node volunteers and community leaders.
2018: Develop and Train Pilot Nodes
- Develop and lead 2-day resilience workshop for CREW pilot nodes that combines relevant education on climate change causes and impacts, resilience techniques, and community organizing skills – as well as opportunities for node participants to network and develop an individual strategy that involves preparation for extreme weather events as well as long-term climate resilience service projects and policy advocacy.
- Workshop will also be an opportunity for community leaders to connect directly with resilience, climate, and emergency response experts; we will reach out to resilience and climate experts to lead portions of workshop in which they share their research and how strategies they have developed might be employed by local citizen volunteers.
- Work with both pilot communities to initiate their resilience strategies – including connecting them with additional educational materials and resources to help further develop short-and long-term plans and manage challenges that arise. Facilitate communication between pilot sites through online CREW platform.
- Document challenges, successes, and strategies of resilience plans; organize these notes into an online resource that can be easily accessed and put into practice by future CREW nodes.
2019: Expand and Strengthen CREW Network
- Begin to establish additional CREW nodes outside of the New England region; these may be sites that showed interest in the initial pilot application process, or communities recruited through additional outreach efforts.
- Hold second annual 2-day resilience workshop in late June to provide new nodes with foundational resilience and organizing trainings, and enable first CREW nodes to share their best practices.
- Continue to support old and new CREW sites in the development of education, preparation, and response efforts around extreme weather events, as well as long-term planning and advocacy regarding community and regional resilience strategies.
- Continue to encourage and facilitate brainstorming and partnerships between nodes through refinement of CREW’s online platform and resilience resources, as well as its in-person opportunities for resource exchange and collaboration.
Over the long term, our teams will engage in proactive education, collaborative service, and inclusive planning at the individual, community, and state levels.
- Proactive Education about:
- Projected local climate impacts;
- How residences, businesses, and communities can prepare for climate changes;
- The links between existing social inequalities and vulnerability to climate change;
- Connections between climate pollution and extreme weather events, baseline shifts in temperature and precipitation, and larger patterns of climate change.
- Collaborative Service Projects that:
- Build local resilience, especially for those particularly vulnerable to climate change
- Collaborate with emergency management agencies and other local partners with response and recovery efforts during and after extreme weather events.
- Inclusive Planning toward policies and programs that:
- Build long-term climate resilience at the municipal and state levels;
- Strengthen the health and equity of our society; and
- Advance constructive community solutions to help society achieve a just transition to a clean energy economy.
Who will take these actions?
CREW’s work will be the result of a partnership between local CREW node volunteers and the national CREW staff. The national CREW staff will provide access to educational materials, training sessions, and other capacity-building experiences; opportunities to connect with our network of resilience and emergency management experts; and forums (through both our online platform and through in-person workshops and conferences) to exchange ideas and coordinate planning with other CREW nodes. The national CREW staff is currently composed of two main coordinators, Craig Altemose and Caroline White-Nockleby (bios below), as well as an extensive advisory board of climate resilience and emergency response experts.
Though climate change is a global challenge, every community will be impacted differently. We believe strongly, therefore, that the most effective climate solutions will be those imagined, deliberated, and executed by those with local knowledge, relevant relationships, and commitment to their communities. With support and guidance from the national team, local CREW nodes will develop their own activities and schedules, community-specific resilience priorities, and long-term regional strategies. CREW will work to develop the capacity of local volunteers and leaders who can not only prepare their communities for extreme weather events and long-term climate changes, but also become active citizen advocates for comprehensive regional plans to build climate resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Where will these actions be taken?
CREW will begin its work with the establishment of two pilot communities in the New England region. These communities will be selected via an online application process where communities can demonstrate their interest and need. The two initial communities selected will likely be small-to-mid-sized communities that, due to geographic, environmental, or socioeconomic factors are particularly vulnerable to immediate climate change impacts such as flooding and heat waves. In the long-term, however, we would aim to establish CREW nodes in communities of all sizes across the United States.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
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What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
CREW aims to not only prepare communities for climate change, but also to build nation-wide support for comprehensive top-down initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to climate impacts – indeed, these two forms of changes can reinforce each other.
The most direct impact of CREW’s work will be to improve climate resilience, creating communities that can better respond to short- and long-term climate changes. By grounding our work in community-specific education and meaningful action and service, CREW will better organize and equip vulnerable citizens and communities to prepare for and respond to the threats climate change poses to local health, equity, and livelihoods – both from extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey, and longer-term, equally damaging changes in temperature and precipitation patterns.
The second impact of CREW’s work will be less direct, but no less important: community engagement in local resilience will grow citizen support for more comprehensive climate action.
CREW will create opportunities for citizens to learn about the impacts of climate change in their own communities, work with neighbors and peers on climate issues, and, most importantly, take meaningful, concrete action on climate change. These collaborative and meaningful climate resilience efforts will help to catalyze a greater sense of urgency and engagement in climate change, helping to create a community of committed climate advocates who can fight for and effect systemic changes in climate change policy.
What are other key benefits?
In the communities where we work, CREW will advance climate resilience plans that not only promote resilience, but also aim to build local leaders and climate advocates, increase collaboration among neighbors, and work towards more equitable protection to climate impacts within and between communities. The following principles and values will help to guide our work and ensure that projects undertaken by CREW nodes not only protect against extreme weather events, but also help work toward more livable, sustainable, and cohesive neighborhoods.
The most effective climate solutions will be those imagined, deliberated, and executed by those with local knowledge, relevant relationships, and commitment to their communities.
The best climate resilience plans not only prepare neighborhoods for climate change, they also help make communities more healthy, sustainable, and equitable.
Effective resilience plans draw on knowledge and experience from the widest possible set of stakeholders, including individuals and groups in the civic, public, and private sectors.
Concrete Service and Action
Well-planned, inclusive, and meaningful actions to fortify resilience not only equip communities for climate change but can also help catalyze the empathy, commitment, and energy vital to reduce climate pollution and its most severe impacts.
In order to achieve widespread and lasting resilience, community efforts must actively confront the historical and structural inequities that burden society’s most vulnerable, especially low-income communities and communities of color.
The best resilience plans advance solutions that not only prepare for climate impacts, but also promote sustainable local economies and reduce the risk and severity of projected changes so that future generations inherit healthy and thriving communities.
Individuals and communities must have the capacity, resources, and knowledge to adapt to ongoing, unpredictable climate changes over time so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of a safe, healthy, and equitable community.
Successful resilience plans must be shaped and directed by individuals and communities who have historically been silenced - many of whom face disproportionate impacts from climate change. It is only through a confluence of leaders from all backgrounds, especially people of color, the working class, and undocumented immigrants, that we can develop robust, inclusive, and truly effective policies.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
Since our project primarily relies on volunteer labor, the costs of pursuing this path will be relatively small. We anticipate our budget being in the five figures for our first full year, in the low six-figures for the next couple years, and ultimately growing into a seven figure annual budget around year five or six as we push for broader expansion. Volunteer time is not only free, it is arguably not a cost at all. Volunteering does not just benefit the community, but also increases one’s self-worth, sense of belonging to one’s community and the strength of one's social networks.
Indeed, as is true of most climate projects, the costs of not taking action far dwarf the costs of prevention and preparation.
That is not to say we do not anticipate challenges. Among the challenges we expect to face are identifying and recruiting the right pilot teams, securing sufficient funding to prove our model, expanding at the right pace, and dealing with tensions around race and class and local vs. national level work. We think it is important that our pilot teams are both composed of the right motivated individuals, achieve important demographic diversity, and are located in communities where the need for CREW is clear and where support for our efforts is sufficiently strong, and finding teams that meet all of these criteria will not be easy. In addition, we recognize that there seems to be much more philanthropic support present for climate mitigation than climate adaptation, so while we are confident of our project’s value, we believe competition for resources will be robust. Similarly, we know how important it is to scale at the right pace. Go to slow, and you fail to capture momentum and excitement needed to reach your full potential. Go to fast, and you overextend your capacity to succeed and come crashing down. We need and want to walk the middle path. Finally, as we engage in resilience work, we recognize that there will be strong intersections with issues of racial and economic justice, issues that are complex, long-standing, and challenging to address. We are entering this work with open eyes and hopeful hearts, but know that it is easy to make missteps. In the same vein, as we work to be an organization that is national in scale but locally led, we anticipate challenges around being criticized by some for being too cookie-cutter, and by others for being too accommodating. But we are aware of these many challenges and eager to address them head-on.
Over the next 15 years, CREW’s main goal will be to develop a comprehensive network of CREW nodes across the United States, especially in regions with high risk of severe impacts from extreme weather events such as drought, sea level rise, and extreme precipitation. After the establishment of the two New England-based pilot CREW sites, we will begin a process of expansion into additional states. We will divide our CREW nodes into regions that will correspond with FEMA regions to facilitate coordination and inter-operability. We will add teams in additional states only when we have the capacity to do so effectively.
We will provide each new CREW site with resources and support to develop a community-specific plan of action that involves both local service projects (such as planting trees, painting roofs white, and running disaster relief trainings) and advocating for resilience plans at the local and regional level. We will also create online and in-person opportunities for different nodes to exchange ideas and collaborate on broader service and advocacy projects. Through these efforts, we aim to build a more active population of engaged volunteers who view climate change as an urgent issue – a growing group of citizens who will advocate for and support comprehensive federal action to improve resilience and reduce the risk and severity of future changes. As the CREW network develops, CREW volunteers may also reach out to global partners to develop stronger relationships with citizens working on climate change policy internationally; CREW participants will also advocate for the U.S. to serve as a leader in global climate policy, and to work with partners across the globe to develop a coordinated climate mitigation strategy.
By 15 years from now, the CREW network will span the United States, with regions corresponding to FEMA’s 10 regional offices. We will continue to add CREW nodes in communities as resources, interest, and need allow. Active CREW citizens will have provided vital pressure to ensure that the U.S. federal and state governments begin to carry out aggressive, comprehensive climate adaptation and mitigation strategies at the national and international levels. CREW volunteers will serve as a vital support for these government initiatives; citizen volunteers will partner with federal and state officials to help carry out projects at the local and regional levels. Coordinated by our national team, CREW participants will also continue to advocate for more aggressive federal action on climate, and ensure that climate change policies prioritize equitable protection and prevention for the most vulnerable communities and individuals.
CREW volunteers will continue to support the implementation of state, federal, and global policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and advocate as needed for continued aggressive and equitable federal and state initiatives on climate policy.
About the author(s)
Craig S. Altemose – Executive Director, CREW
Craig S. Altemose has served as the Executive Director of Better Future Project since its founding in 2011 and built the organization into a critical player in the Massachusetts climate movement. He holds a B.A. in International Relations and Global Affairs from Eckerd College, a Master in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School, and a certificate in Non-profit Management and Leadership from the Questrom School of Business at Boston University. His work has been covered extensively in the media, including in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, MSNBC, the Boston Globe, and others. Craig received a Kaufman Fellowship from Harvard Law School to jumpstart his public service career, and has won awards from the National Lawyer’s Guild, the Sierra Club, and others.
Caroline White-Nockleby – Program Coordinator, CREW
Caroline comes to CREW from the Museum of Science in Boston, where she worked in the Youth Programs department helping to plan and facilitate science programs for high school students. She is a Climate CoLab Outreach Fellow for the Shifting Attitudes and Behaviors Contest and a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts with a B.A. in Geosciences and American Studies. At Williams, she was class Valedictorian and received recognition for her Geoscience research on Pacific Ocean circulation, as well as her ethnographic and organizing work on pollution of the chemical PFOA in local groundwater. She is also the recipient of a Fulbright research grant to study issues of water scarcity in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
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