Overwhelmed with bad climate change news? These American cities and states are doing something about it


Some cities and states are stepping up, but is it enough?

Man installing solar panels

Photo credit: Ploughcroft, flickr

Some cities and states are stepping up, but is it enough?

The conversation of climate change continues to be in the spotlight with many issuing warnings about what changes must be done in order to save the planet, including Bill Nye who recently used profanity saying the world is on fire during Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Since the industrial revolution more than 250 years ago, emissions and pollutants have built up in the atmosphere and nations around the world—not counting the United States—have signed the UN Paris Agreement to combat greenhouse gas emissions. While America is no longer party to the agreement, it doesn't mean that states and cities aren't trying to combat the rising temperatures themselves.

Several American states and cities have taken steps to ensure their greenhouse gas emissions lower in order to reduce the risk of increasing the Earth's temperature by the dreaded 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, which would, in turn, cause an increase in natural disasters including fires, floods and droughts around the world.

In particular, California, Vermont, Hawaii, New Jersey and New York are taking the lead when it comes to combating greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate change. All five of the states have set in place legislation that mandates utility services source 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2030. New Jersey, Vermont and Hawaii have more aggressive goals, aiming for 100 percent by 2050, 75 percent by 2032 and 100 percent by 2045, respectively.


During the Global Climate Action Summit in September, California Governor Edmund G. Brown signed and announced a bill that set a 100 percent clean electricity goal for the state and issued an executive order establishing a new target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. In a press release, the governor said that meeting the newly set goals will not be easy nor immediate, "but it must be done."

Officials are targeting the state's electric grid because it represents about 16 percent of California's greenhouse gas emissions, but the state's biggest source of climate pollution is transportation at 41 percent. In response to transportation pollution, California has a goal of converting all appropriate city vehicles to zero-emission vehicles by 2030 and promote the rollout of more charging stations throughout the state.

Additionally, California plans to achieve its ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 through doubling energy efficiency savings for existing buildings, reducing GHG emissions from natural and working lands, and reducing short-lived climate pollutants. More specific examples of California's projects toward meeting their climate change goals are found here.


Hawaii's legislature has been at work trying to combat their GHG emissions for decades. Hawaii first started the conversation of greenhouse gas effects in 1984 after a state Senate report showed how climate change would affect the island. In summer 2018, Governor David Ige signed three bills to combat climate change, one of which set the goal of being carbon neutral by 2045. The Aloha State also aims to source their electricity from 100 percent renewable resources by 2045 and adds the state to the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Another bill signed by Gov. Ige creates a framework for a carbon offset program that allows for carbon credits through global carbon sequestration protocols. The final one requires a sea level rise analysis in environmental impact statements before building projects.

New Jersey

The Garden State is among America's most rapidly-heating states, so it's understandable they're trying to combat climate change as much as possible. New Jersey has several state programs and initiatives to inform the public about climate change and how to reduce their carbon footprint. In terms of legislation, New Jersey is on course to reach its goal of 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030 set by Governor Phil Murphy, which is a milestone for the state aiming to be a 100-percent clean energy state by 2050, though the state may reach its 3,500-megawatt goal in 2022. Overall, the state aims to cut emissions by 80 percent between 2006 and 2050.

New York

New York State's goal is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below the levels in 1990 by 2030. They plan to reach the goal by adding 3,000 megawatts of solar to the state's energy mix by 2023, adding 3,000 electric vehicle charging stations and adding 40,000 electric vehicles to the road, and decrease energy consumption of buildings by 23 percent of 2012 levels. Furthermore, New York State joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance in 2018 and state officials agree to phase out coal power entirely. New York aims to be coal-less by 2020 by closing all of their coal power plants.


Vermont aims to reduce GHG emissions by 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. They plan on reducing their emissions by increasing incentives and improving services for buildings and homes, replacing all of their energy with clean sources by 2050, adding more charging stations and converting their state vehicle fleets to electric vehicles, protecting the natural landscape, and more.

While these state governments are making significant strides in reducing their carbon emissions, two cities beyond these states are taking strides. Both Seattle and Atlanta have been named as the winning cities in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge. Seattle and Atlanta received $2.5 million worth of new resources and support to help meet or beat the cities' near-term carbon reduction goals. The specific goals from the Bloomberg project include the following:


The Georgia capital was the first city in Southeast America to pass a building energy benchmark and transparency ordinance, which was part of the reason why Bloomberg chose it as a winning city. With the $2.5 million worth of winnings, Atlanta plans to add incentives for clean energy upgrades to existing building code enforcement; expand the city's electric car charging infrastructure and prioritize sidewalks and other pedestrian infrastructure, especially in under-served neighborhoods.


Seattle plans to use the Bloomberg support to improve the energy efficiency of buildings citywide and reduce emissions from the transit sector. More specifically, Seattle plans to expand financing and incentives for building efficiency; make Seattle a model for the creation of green jobs through an innovative pilot with Seattle Colleges; provide new programs to incentivize public transportation, bikes, and walking over single occupancy vehicles and evaluate and advance implementation of strategies based on the Seattle Department of Transportation's congestion pricing study.

What's Houston's plan?

In terms of Houston's response to climate change, it's a work in progress. In September, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Houston's Climate Action Plan saying in a press release, “We have a lot at stake. Every Houstonian needs to get involved and share their vision for a more sustainable and resilient Houston.” The city is currently engaging with stakeholders and the community through town hall meetings to develop the plan, which will focus on cost-effective energy efficiency, renewable energy and transportation measures that will reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions and uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement. If the schedule goes accordingly, the plan will be released in December 2019.

More mayors are taking action against climate change as two-thirds of mayors polled agreed that cities should play a role in reducing the effects of climate change even if it means making fiscal sacrifices, according to Boston University's Initiative on Cities Menino Survey of Mayors.

Personal action

Other than supporting policy changes in your city, what can you do? Here are five simple things you can do to lower your personal carbon footprint:

  1. If you drive, refrain from idling your car. Waiting for curbside pickup to come? Turn off your car. Waiting for your kids to get out of school? Park and turn off your car. Getting fast food? Go inside instead of going through the drive-through. Idling is responsible for 1.6 percent of all greenhouse gases.
  2. Don't waste food and eat less red meat and dairy products. The average American household throws away 25 percent or $450 of the food purchased in a year and about 10 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gases are linked to food waste.
  3. Use LED lights, which require 1/6 of the energy that incandescent bulbs use.
  4. If you have time and space, line dry your clothes.
  5. Educate yourself on the latest technologies, research and policies about climate change and, of course, vote. For more personal tips, click here.
Heather Leighton
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6100 Main St. MS-208
Houston, TX 77005-1892


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