Uncovering JAPA

Three Ways to Build Support for Community-Centered Climate Planning

Climate change is a global crisis, but solutions are often found at the local level. In states such as Texas that are historically antagonistic to climate planning, local communities have attempted to bridge the climate planning gap.

Community-centered Climate Planning Needed in Texas

However, these successes do not necessarily scale to statewide impacts. In "Community-Centered Climate Planning," Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 88, No. 1), Katherine Lieberknecht argues that "the lack of statewide climate planning in Texas is a significant human rights and climate justice issue — one that planners can help address."

Lieberknecht advocates for community-centered climate planning, an approach that "seeks to better incorporate local knowledge about climate and residents' participation in climate strategies." She also argues that understanding residents' perceptions of climate change is the first step toward building support for climate planning action.

To measure Texans' current perceptions of climate change, Lieberknecht analyzed a survey of 1,053 residents from across the state. Overall, Texans understood the scope and impact of the problem: a majority of respondents reported that they have experienced more frequent extreme weather and believe that climate change will create additional negative impacts. Furthermore, 64 percent of respondents believed that human activity is contributing to the effects of climate change.

Texas Residents Support Environmental Regulation Policies

Despite these beliefs, respondents did not identify climate change as a major concern for the future. They also did not express support for individual behavior changes that increase costs. However, there was general support for environmental regulation in Texas: 71 percent of respondents believed that environmental regulations and policies are important for promoting well-being in Texas and a strong majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they would support policymakers who enacted laws to reduce risk of harm by pollution and natural disasters.

These responses seem to indicate that many regard climate change as an abstract problem. However, for climate planning to be effective at the local level, planners need to build support among residents. To achieve this, Lieberknecht suggests that planners employ three strategies:

  • Better connect the impacts of climate change to immediate concerns about housing, air quality, and health
  • Emphasize common ground and the strong connections between human health and climate change
  • Use community engagement processes such as interviews and focus groups to further explore and improve climate communication

Lieberknecht's research is particularly timely after the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on West Virginia vs. EPA, which limited the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and constrained the agency's ability to combat climate change. Lieberknecht is clear that despite the focus on Texas, the findings are relevant to a variety of contexts. In the absence of federal regulation and state leadership, community-centered climate planning is critical for building support for climate action more broadly.

Top Image: High water sign near Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey. Eric Overton, iStock/Getty Images Plus.

About the AUthor
Gemma Holt is a master's in urban planning and a master's in public policy candidate at Harvard University.

August 25, 2022

By Gemma Holt