Opportunities for Climate Policymaking at the City Scale

Elszasz, Hayley, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kruks-Wisner, Gabrielle, Politics, University of Virginia

While the science behind climate change continues to advance – and the evidence in favor of acting to mitigate emissions grows – states and cities in the United States have varied greatly in their policy response to the challenge. Social scientists have debated the potential roadblocks to addressing climate change in democratic contexts (Fiorino, 2018) and have speculated about how to funnel citizen concern into policy action through deliberation and other tools (Niemeyer, 2013). In this dissertation, I look to one U.S. regional leader on climate mitigation – the Peninsula of California – to track prospects for enacting strong, democratic municipal climate action. By conducting interviews and surveys and engaging in observation, I find that the meaning that individual policy actors attribute to their role (as activists, representatives, citizens) and to the issue of climate change itself shapes their response and level of engagement with climate mitigation. While the climate challenge is global in scale, attentiveness to how differently-positioned individuals and groups produce meaning around climate change offers insight into potentials for acting on climate mitigation at the local level. I find that strengthening local climate mitigation action and democracy together is possible when city councilors balance their roles as trustees and delegates, city governments demonstrate commitment to sustained community engagement and input, and professional activists continue to do the important work of deep translation, connecting communities and policymakers.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
climate change, policymaking, cities, California
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