Lessons in Capacity: How Bold Climate Policy Plays Out at a Local Level

Claire Kasinadhuni

Claire Kasinadhuni

CivicSpark Climate Fellow

For fear of sounding like a broken record, I will skip over the detailed account of how my fellowship/life is not exactly as I expected it to be, thanks to the pandemic. It’s 2021 but you could also call it December 56th, 2020. It didn’t become a brand new world January 1st, we are still wearing masks, working from home in our sweatpants, and trying to avoid refreshing the news. At the same time, I have been pondering the beauty of my unexpected journey to CivicSpark and SBC. I have learned so much in a short 5 months, and as I enter the halfway point it seems like a good time to reflect. 

CivicSpark is about increasing local government capacity, so non-profit organizations like SBC host fellows like me to provide support to their external government partners. My work has been split between Nevada County and Plumas County. The Nevada County side of my work is focused on implementing their Energy Action Plan (EAP) through two avenues, their community Working Group and the county itself. It’s been really interesting to see the amount of work it takes to implement energy efficiency. Especially when it’s no one’s job in particular. It’s a huge lift for counties (especially in rural areas) to add more to their already full plates. It’s made me consider the difference between urban and rural areas and the amount of dedication and passion it takes to incorporate climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. It also has made me consider policy trickle down and how these larger state initiatives look on the smallest level of government.

I have been learning a similar lesson from the Plumas County side of my work. I am working on a Sierra Nevada Wide Vulnerability Assessment (VA) under SBC’s Sierra CAMP. Plumas County comes in as a pilot of our technical assistance piece, which is included under the grant we received from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. I am writing a vulnerability assessment specifically for Plumas County that includes adaptation strategies tailored to their needs. The work is helping to satisfy SB 379 mandating counties to incorporate climate planning in their Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP). So I am working generally on the VA under Sierra CAMP and then also specifically for Plumas County providing more tailored resources and assistance. 

It has been fascinating to measure vulnerability by looking at socioeconomic, environmental, and adaptive capacity. I hadn’t considered the complexities of vulnerability and how the coupling of certain factors make places more or less vulnerable. We are at the beginning of this process and we are essentially paving the way. There isn’t a roadmap so it involves a lot of ‘choose your own adventure’ decisions, something I find simultaneously daunting and exciting. This work again makes me think about the scale of policy at work. I have been awed by California’s bold climate policy but I had never considered how this would impact and unfold in a small rural county. 

Really understanding the impacts of policy on a state ecosystem is enlightening and important. There are a million takeaways from this work, but I would definitely start there. These small rural jurisdictions in the Sierra will undoubtedly be impacted by climate change which is why the continuation of bold policy is essential. But it’s also imperative that policy makers are thinking about the trickle down and how logistically these smaller areas are gearing up and meeting these demands.

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I entered college knowing I would major in environmental studies. This interest in the environment was the constant in my ever-changing adolescence (and involved many phases, including when I only wore green, yikes!) and it helped direct me when I arrived on campus as one of the 45,000 students at the University of Washington. I started taking environmental classes right off the bat and didn’t have to flounder around, searching for some deep unstoked passion. It was already there.

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I have grown up with the luxury of beautiful mountains, trails, rivers, and beaches. I spent most of my free time recreating outdoors and waited for any opportunity to venture to new places. Studying the environment seemed like an extension of the things I love. I could learn about the birds, trees, and rocks that I saw. I could learn about the tides and the rivers that I know. I could become an expert on my home.