Wildfires, sea level rise, air pollution, asthma — you don’t have to go far to find communities living with climate change impacts. But there are also climate solutions everywhere you look. This summer, the Freedom to Breathe Tour visited communities across the country that are working to reduce carbon emissions and make their communities healthier and more resilient.
At Chispas Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, climate change figures into every planting decision. “The whole goal and why we grow so many crops, is this idea of resilience and diversity,” farm manager Casey Holland says. “We grow over 120 different varieties of vegetables, mainly because, with a changing climate, some will do better than others.”
Crop diversity is an important way farmers can adapt to climate variability, but many older crop varieties are being lost. In the United States, 90 percent of the fruit and vegetable varieties grown by farmers a century ago are no longer available. Seed banks can help keep older, traditional varieties readily available to farmers and communities. At Tesuque Pueblo outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where people have been farming for more than 900 years, the pueblo’s seed bank stores traditional varieties of corn, beans, squash, melons and other vegetables. Gailey Morgan, foreman at Tesuque Pueblo Farm, says the goal of the seed bank is to make locally sourced seeds available to the community. “We’re here in the high desert, and we feel like our seeds are adapted to our environment here,” Morgan said.
From locally-sourced seeds in New Mexico, the Freedom to Breathe Tour traveled to Nevada, where community members, politicians and businesses are working together to make solar power available to everyone. Last year assemblyman Chris Brooks helped pass a state law bringing back net metering, which makes roof-top solar viable. “We’re providing a democratization of energy production,” Brooks says, “and that is so important to so many segments of society. Everyone should be able to participate in both making their own energy, creating high-paying good-quality jobs, but also being part of the solution as we fight climate change, instead of being part of the problem.”
Residential solar company Sunrun is helping to make solar affordable in Nevada and elsewhere. They offer discounted electricity rates to low-income customers in Nevada, and in California, they’ve committed to installing 100MW of solar on affordable housing around the state in the next ten years.
The growth of solar and wind energy across the country means that the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is no longer power generation — it’s transportation. In California, where transportation accounts for 41 percent of emissions, the state is investing heavily in EVs and EV charging infrastructure, and plans to move to all electric buses by 2040. That includes school buses. With the help of state funds, school districts across the state are investing in electric school buses. For John Clements, a former district transportation director and a self-described electric bus evangelist, every bus is a mark of progress. “In my own school district, one in six students carried an inhaler to school. That’s an example of what we’re trying to change here,” Clements said.
The move to electric school buses is just beginning — the leading manufacturer, Lion Electric, has about 150 electric school buses on the road across the country, and there are almost 500,000 school buses nationwide. But many states are planning to devote some of their share of the $3 Billion Volkswagen settlement money towards replacing diesel school buses, which means the number of zero-emission school buses will continue to rise.