Leading locally: City groups take action against climate change

By Clara Snyder | Reporter

Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, conversations regarding climate change action have become widespread across the globe. The international treaty encouraged more cities, countries and companies to make strides toward carbon neutrality.

In Waco, conversations about climate and sustainability take place in local-led and city-led groups. Two groups that gather monthly to discuss these topics are Waco Friends of the Climate and the Sustainable Action Work Group.

Waco Friends of the Climate emerged in 2002 in response to the Iraq war under the name “Waco Friends of Peace,” with a focus on anti-war projects. In the time since, director Alan Northcutt said their focus has shifted.

“About 11 or 12 years ago, the wars had subsided to some degree, and we realized then that climate change was the biggest issue facing mankind,” Northcutt said.

The Sustainable Action Work Group is a newer group formed by Eric Coffman, the City of Waco sustainability programs manager. Coffman said he created the group six months ago to give the public a less formal outlet to discuss issues under the sustainability board, contributing to a short-term roadmap.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the community to narrow down what specific goals we want to focus on getting accomplished within a five-year time frame, targeting the areas of clean energy, clean water, waste, recycling, transportation and food,” Coffman said.

Described on the website as “Wacoans dedicated to combating climate change through education and direct action,” Northcutt said he believes climate action must come down to the local level. Two of their local projects have been recycling Styrofoam and giving away tree seedlings twice a year at the farmers market.

The Styrofoam recycling project began in 2019 when the city’s Styrofoam waste was sent to the landfill because it couldn’t be processed at the Cobbs Recycling Center in Waco. Realizing this, the group started collecting the trash locally and driving it to a plant in Waxahachie where it could be recycled.

After doing this every three months for several years, the group’s efforts were adopted by the city.

“The city saw what we were doing and decided to take it over on a citywide basis at the Cobbs Recycling Center,” Northcutt said. “Now, people can take their Styrofoam to be recycled by the City of Waco any day, not just every three months.”

Waco Friends of the Climate has been making business presentations for the city council since 2018. Northcutt said at these meetings, the group urges the city to invest in things like renewable energy generators as well as electric vehicles for police vehicles and the transportation sector.

“They don’t always do what is recommended, but we constantly try to provide pressure on the city to do the right thing,” Northcutt said. “I think it’s important that we keep reminding them while providing information about how crucial the climate crisis is.”

Coffman’s office works to address climate change, issues of environmental justice and the climate footprint in the city, and he said he thinks the climate is a priority of Waco and the city council.

“The city council is the body that sets the agenda, strategies and priorities for the city and its management,” Coffman said. “[Sustainability] is one of the city council’s strategic goals, so I’d say it’s a pretty high priority.”

Northcutt said although the city council claims to prioritize the climate, he thinks the emphasis placed on the issue through action is low.

“We’ve had a number of our people speak at meetings, and at times, [the city] will say, ‘We care about the climate crisis and want to lower our carbon footprint,’ but when it comes down to making changes and taking steps, their response is extremely slow,” Northcutt said.

Coffman said when it comes to funding, there isn’t a lot of money carved out for the Office of Sustainability to run programs. One of the ways he works to achieve his office’s goals is by focusing on grant writing and applications.

One grant the city has received was focused on food waste diversion, addressing Waco’s carbon footprint by keeping organic matter, which produces greenhouse gases such as methane, out of the landfill.

Additionally, Coffman said the city council recently approved an application for $58 million from the Environmental Protection Agency. If awarded, the grant funds would go toward various forms of climate pollution reduction in the city.

Both Coffman and Northcutt’s groups hold monthly meetings open to the public with different climate-related focuses.

The Sustainable Action Work Group’s meetings pertain to work on the sustainable action roadmap but also include a discussion of recent and upcoming city events, such as Cameron Park’s Green Champion events and the Green Communities Conference.

Northcutt said Waco Friends of the Climate’s meetings serve as a space to educate the public on climate change effects and solutions. This past month, the group’s meeting pertained to choosing a bank and credit card from companies that don’t fund fossil fuel projects.

“Climate action is such a herculean task that we need to work at all levels, from individual citizens to cities, states, countries and through global efforts like the Paris Agreement,” Northcutt said.

To learn more about climate action locally, individuals can subscribe to the City of Waco’s monthly sustainability newsletter.