How 12 Communities Are Fighting Climate Change and What’s Standing in Their Way

They’re using renewable energy, urban planning, their voices and the law to try to rein in climate change that’s already in their front yards.

Nicole Ballard’s home in Imperial Beach, California, has flooded several times in recent years. The city can't afford seawalls, so it's suing companies responsible for greenhouse gas emissions as sea level rises. Credit: David Hasemyer/ICN
Nicole Ballard’s home in Imperial Beach, California, has flooded several times in recent years. The city can't afford seawalls, so it's suing companies responsible for greenhouse gas emissions as sea level rises. Credit: David Hasemyer/ICN

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As the risks of climate grow increasingly clear and the damage rises, communities around the country are fighting back in their own ways.

2018 Year in Review

Tiny Imperial Beach is suing Big Oil in a David-and-Goliath legal battle. Students at an Evangelical College are educating their generation and their elders. Regulators in Georgia and business owners in Colorado and Michigan are finding new ways to expand clean energy, and California is committing to 100 percent renewable energy.  

It’s rarely an easy batttle, though, and the fossil fuels industry and its supporters have been pushing back. As activists try to stop fossil fuel pipelines, several states have written laws to try to silence them. Sea level rise threatens the future of a critical military shipyard, while the Trump administration rejects climate science and ignores the risk. The nearby city of Norfolk is scrambling to adapt to rising seas and discovering it can’t save every neighborhood. New members of Congress, meanwhile, are pushing big plans for a “Green New Deal.”

These are their stories.


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Chelsey Geisz talks with Rep. Peter Roskam about climate change during a nature walk near Wheaton College. Credit: Jessie Smith
Generation Climate: Can Young Evangelicals Change the Climate Debate?

For students at this top evangelical college, loving God means protecting creation. That includes dealing with the human sources of climate change. Meet Diego, Chelsey and Sean, three members of a growing movement to change the evangelical community’s views on climate change.



Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina. Credit: David Hasemyer
This Tiny California Beach Town Is Suing Big Oil in a Fight for Survival

Water borders the town of Imperial Beach on three sides, and what prosperity exists here comes from the ocean and its surf. Now, climate change is turning the same water into the single greatest threat to Imperial Beach’s future. The town can’t afford seawalls, so it’s trying to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change as the ocean rises and saltwater creeps into its streets: It’s suing.



Solar panels at Georgia Tech University. Credit: Georgia Tech Research Center/CC-BY-3.0
How Georgia Became a Top 10 Solar State, With Lawmakers Barely Lifting a Finger

Georgia has plenty of sun, but little support for solar power in the state legislature. Here’s how a Republican who goes by “Bubba” changed the energy landscape.



As sea level rises, coastal flooding will wipe out parts of Norfolk. The city is trying to figure out how to stop it. Credit: Kyle Spencer/City of Norfolk
Norfolk Wants to Remake Itself as Sea Level Rises, but Who Will Be Left Behind?

It’s hard to miss the dangers of sea level rise in Norfolk, Virginia, where high tides and storm surges spill into coastal streets. The city sees itself as a living lab for coastal resilience, one in desperate need of solutions as flooding worsens. But not every neighborhood can be saved.



A carrier in dry dock. Credit: Michael R. Gendron/U.S. Navy
U.S. Nuclear Fleet’s Dry Docks Threatened by Storms and Rising Seas

At the foot of the Chesapeake Bay lies a Naval shipyard older than the nation itself. It’s one of only two military bases on the East Coast with dry docks able to service the nuclear fleet, and the U.S. military is well aware that it’s facing a growing risk from climate change. Rising seas will likely engulf the shipyard by century’s end, but the reckoning for Norfolk and nearby military installations could come much sooner.



Illustration. Credit: Paul Horn/InsideClimate News
How Energy Companies and Allies Are Turning the Law Against Protesters

Pipeline activists like Ashley McCray are feeling increasingly under assault as energy companies and the industry’s allies in government have tried to turn the law — and law enforcement — against them. In at least 31 states, lawmakers and governors have introduced bills and orders since the start of the Trump administration that target protests, particularly opposition to pipelines.



Crescent Dunes concentrated solar power plant. Credit: Solar Reserve
24-Hour Solar Energy: Molten Salt Makes It Possible, and Prices Are Falling Fast

In the empty Nevada desert, halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, a field of shimmering mirrors concentrates the sunlight onto a tower with a light so bright you can’t look directly at it. Kevin Smith sees this as the future of energy. Using molten salt, his company is trying to prove that concentrated solar power can make the sun an affordable clean energy source day and night.



Bill Decker shows some of the building techniques used to create highly energy-efficient homes. Credit: Dan Gearino
Net-Zero Energy Homes Pay Off Faster Than You Think—Even in the Chilly Midwest

On a drive down a country road, builder Bill Decker gives an off-the-cuff seminar about energy efficient homes. He has been in business since 1981 and only now is his industry beginning to grasp something he has been arguing for a while: Net-zero-energy homes—homes that are so efficient a few rooftop solar panels can produce all the electricity the home needs—can be built almost anywhere, even in places with brutal winters.



ColoradColorado's weatherization offices, which help low-income homeowners improve energy efficiency, are partnering with utilities and non-profits to install solar panels on homes. Credit: GRID Alternatives
Solar Is Saving Low-Income Households Money in Colorado. It Could Be a National Model.

Low-income households in Colorado are getting a new question during visits from energy assistance agencies: Have you considered solar panels? It’s an innovative approach to solving two challenges at once: reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the effects of climate change appear across the state, and lowering low-income families’ electricity bills. The results can make a big difference for homeowners like Joe Anderson.



Washington Gov. Jay Inslee co-chairs the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 17 governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Credit: David Ryder/Getty Images
7 States Considering Carbon Pricing to Fight Climate Change

At least seven state governments are poised at the brink of putting a price on climate-warming carbon emissions within the next year. Democratic election victories in 2018 raised the odds of climate change policies succeeding, activists and analysts say.



Hawaii already has a 100 percent renewable power goal, but California is the fifth-largest economy in the world and would be the most populous state to require its electricity be carbon-free. Credit: Lee Celano/AFP/Getty Images
California Ups Its Clean Energy Game: 100% Zero-Carbon Electricity

California solidified its role as a world leader on climate action as Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to shift the state to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. It was a bold move in a state that’s already seeing the devastation that comes with climate change, including heat waves, droughts, wildfires and sea level rise.



Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for other climate supporters after defeating a long-time congressman in the Democratic primary. Dan Videtich for the Washington Post via Getty Images
5 Election Winners to Watch on Climate as Environment Crusaders Head to Congress

They’ve taken on polluters and built climate solutions. Now they’re bringing activism to Congress in one of the most diverse freshman classes in U.S. House history. Many of them are talking about a “Green New Deal”—a massive federal government effort for clean energy and jobs.


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For These 5 Communities, It’s a Tougher Fight


Not all farmers approve of the fossil fuel industry's expansions. Nebraska cattle rancher Ben Gotschall opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which he believes could damage the state's environment. Credit: Andrew Burton/Getty Images
How the Farm Bureau’s Climate Agenda Is Failing Its Farmers

The Farm Bureau is among the most potent political forces in Washington, skillfully parlaying the American farmer into an enduring influence machine. Conservative to the core, it mirrors the Trump administration’s ideology almost perfectly. And nowhere do their agendas align more completely—and with more profound consequences—than on the challenge of climate change.



With water rising in the ship's hull, a team on the Polar Star had to solve a potentially life-threatening problem fast. Credit: Chief Petty Officer Nick Ameen/U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Military Needed New Icebreakers Years Ago. A Melting Arctic Is Raising the National Security Stakes.

Coast Guard crews are known for keeping their cool in high-stress situations. But when Lt. Samuel Krakower stepped into the engine room of the Polar Star last January, the scene was frantic: icy water was pouring through the hull of the rugged ship. The American icebreaker fleet is in a perilous state, and not just in moments of high drama. The rapid melting of sea ice as the earth warms has only increased the need for icebreakers as Arctic waterways become more accessible than ever.



Nuiqsut, with about 400 residents, sits some 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Fossil fuel burning has already brought climate change to its doorstep.  Credit: Sabrina Shankman/InsideClimate News
Surrounded by Oil Fields, an Alaska Village Fears for Its Health

When the wind blows in from the vast oil operations that have been encroaching on Nuiqsut, Alaska, noses run and asthma flares up. Fossil fuel burning has already brought climate change to the town’s doorstep, causing Arctic temperatures to rise twice as fast as the global average, changing the sea ice and impacting species that people rely on for hunting. Lately, concerns about respiratory illness have risen as the North Slope drilling has spread, as well.



Mayking Fire Chief Tony Fugate (left) and the volunteer fire department's treasurer, Buddy Sexton, speak to residents about their station's rising electricity costs during an Aug. 2 public meeting. Credit: James Bruggers/InsideClimate News
Cost of Coal: Electric Bills Skyrocket in Appalachia as Region’s Economy Collapses

As coal mining has collapsed across Appalachia, residents in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia have been socked with a double whammy—crippling electric bills to go along with a declining economy and loss of jobs. Natural gas and renewables are getting cheaper, but residents here are stuck paying more for coal-fired power plants that no longer make economic sense.



Ian O'Connell and Matt Teague stand in Teague's new, elevated house, which is 1 foot above the required base flood elevation height building codes require. Credit: Meera Subramanian
They Know Seas Are Rising, but They’re Not Abandoning Their Beloved Cape Cod

“It flooded in early January, and then it happened again two or three months later,” says Matt Teague of Barnstable, Mass., about the slew of storms that hit Cape Cod in the winter of 2017. “We’re like, what are we doing here?” he says, opening his arms skyward. In spite of his own question, Matt isn’t leaving. He’s going to rebuild—but higher. He’s counting on building codes and regulations to keep the Cape safe.