SOCAL CLIMATE CHANGEMAKER
Nicole Capretz of Climate Action Campaign
By Maisy Menzies | Contributor
MAR-APR 2021 ISSUE
Photo courtesy of Nicole Capretz and Climate Action Campaign
Living in Southern California, we’ve seen climate change in our own backyards. We know all too well the repercussions of the fires that set many SoCal communities ablaze over the past few years.
Everyday climate change proves to be a local, national and global issue, and it’s terrifying to confront as an individual. That is why Nicole Capretz, founder and director of the San Diego-based non-profit organization Climate Action Campaign, says fighting this problem starts with a local perspective.
“We believe that cities and local governments are the hubs of innovation, where you model best practices and you get to experiment and learn,” she said of how to manage such a global concern at a smaller scale. “And from there, you can scale and replicate it.”
For Capretz, it’s all about not biting off more than you can chew. By directing her energy to local solutions, and then finding ways to expand those focused, regional plans to apply to larger communities, Capretz has managed to make tangible change within San Diego, and encourage that same change across the state and country.
San Diego’s plan for 100% renewable energy by 2035 is the perfect example of this. Back in 2015, this was a local measure in the San Diego Climate Action Plan that was largely powered by Climate Action Campaign. Capretz stated that, at the time, many believed this plan was too ambitious and would be too hard to implement. Now, the State of California and the Biden Administration have adopted this same plan as the model for climate change reductions.
“We are based in San Diego... but we immediately started branching out,” said Capretz, who actively looks for ways to help other Southern California cities implement proven climate action plans. “We started working in 18 other cities surrounding San Diego, and from there we have expanded our efforts to include Orange County.”
Orange County is home to some of the most at-risk cities for climate change, such as Santa Ana and Anaheim. As such, the county has presented Capretz with new issues requiring nuanced solutions. She and her team have started a new public power agency called Orange County Public Power Authority. And, while Irvine, Fullerton, Buena Park, and Huntington Beach have joined this initiative, there are still 30 cities in Orange County that have not joined the cause. This leaves what Capretz sees as room for opportunity and growth within the county.
Climate Action Campaign also is sponsoring a state law that will require Orange County to create a regional climate authority. This will be an agency that will coordinate and collaborate on climate solutions and preparation for climate challenges, like heat waves, fires and sea level rise. “There is a lot of opportunity to grow and accelerate clean energy in Orange County.
Getting the elected officials, the decision makers and the community to have a plan in place is super important,” Capretz said of the OC-based initiatives. “In a lot of ways, Orange County is really behind other regions in planning for climate change and we want to help with that.”
As Capretz emphasized in our interview, progress to address climate change isn’t just about introducing groundbreaking bills and laws to government entities in Southern California. A huge part of her job is getting these laws passed, and then making sure that government officials are held accountable for the promises they’ve made to the public.
Capretz stated that pushing local governments to get out of their comfort zones by enacting transformative policies to remove carbon from our economy is critical, and it is what the science behind climate change says we have to do. With her 20 years of experience in non-profit work and government positions, Capretz has made a career of being able to encourage change in simultaneously realistic and idealistic ways.
“I started my career working with different non-profit organizations, building my skill set and learning how policy and politics work. Then I worked on the inside of San Diego City Hall for three different officials,” she said of her diverse experience. “I really did learn many different facets of the public policy business and after 20 years, I felt that I was ready to start my own organization.”
Capretz has developed a keen sense of what works when trying to pass a bold law, what it takes to make sure laws are implemented, and how to get the public involved with these efforts.
“We have to motivate local officials to be brave and bold and do the right thing, and we have to motivate the public to believe that big changes are possible… We have to have a public face that says this is possible and we have a road map and you can come with us,” she said.
Capretz recognizes that politics can be a rough business. And with an issue that is as colossal as climate change, she understands that it can feel like one individual can’t make the change that is needed to fix the situation. To her, playing the long game and working with your government is the solution, rather than getting disheartened when laws and action plans don’t pan out.
In fact, Capretz stays away from recommending individual action to help climate change, because she believes that what each person can do is completely relative to their means — action that works for one person won’t always work for the next. So when it comes to public engagement with this issue, Capretz’s go-to advice is to spread the word and show city governments that climate change should be something they are working on, and that as a citizen, you are holding them responsible.
“You can’t just tell somebody to get rooftop solar or buy an EV car because those things are expensive,” she said. “But if you can get active at the local level and hold your local elected officials accountable, you can have a huge impact. And that will have more long-term value than any individual action.”
For the average Southern California family, Capretz offered some tips on how to get involved and make your government listen. According to her, if you are a local trying to get your government invested in the issue of climate change, being a squeaky wheel is key. Persistent calls and emails from the community will result in change.
The idea of approaching one’s city officials and asking about their climate plans can seem daunting, especially when the average SoCal resident is not an expert on the issue. But from what Capretz has seen from her years in working in government, expressing even general interest in the government’s climate plan and asking even the simplest questions about local climate change initiatives is enough to force its hand.
Ultimately, Carpetz believes the most powerful thing that SoCal residents can do in the fight against climate change is to use their voices. If you can’t install solar panels or buy an electric car or go vegan, that is okay. But the public can always be more vocal and that is the biggest motivator for cities to do more.
“We are always trying to get more and more people to speak up and speak out, and that’s how we are going to change the world,” Capretz said. “You can see what your city is doing in terms of climate change. If you think they should be doing better, then activate.”