What do you do when you want to combat climate change but the federal government isn’t willing to help? You might look to the state level instead. But what if the state doesn’t budge either? The answer then might be to zoom in even farther. A great example comes from Eau Claire, Wisc., where according to Next City, the small local government is doing its part to save the planet despite a lack of help from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Eau Claire only has a population of about 68,000, but the former factory town was able to craft an ambitious plan to achieve carbon neutrality as well as transition to 100 percent renewable energy. The Eau Claire City Council voted unanimously in March to pass a resolution saying that by 2050, the town will have a net-zero carbon footprint and will have sworn off fossil fuels.
“In Wisconsin, and for a smaller city, we are pioneering,” associate city planner Ned Noel told Next City. “Everyone knows Madison is progressive, but this is opening the door for other communities that are smaller and have less staff.”
Eau Claire’s actions came about as a direct response to the state government struggling to take action on climate change. Walker, the Republican governor, came down forcefully against climate science in 2013 when he banned local governments from exploring bans on plastic bag use. The town took action by creating a plan to protect the environment in other ways.
There are a number of underlying factors that have made Eau Claire the right place to take pro-climate action. Next City notes that because it’s a university town, Eau Claire has a strong base of intellectual citizens who care about science and want to do the right thing for the environment. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, with an enrollment of around 10,000, is an important presence locally, and large swaths of both the faculty and student body have been active in helping the town limit climate change in any way possible.