Starting on Thursday, the United States unofficial Climate Action Center began showcasing events highlighting the power of subnational actors. The kickoff events featured mayors, University energy managers, faith leaders and business officials from across the country.

All of these speakers stood united behind the message that the United States will meet its commitment to the Paris Agreement with or without the federal government. Each discussed how their organization and the respective communities they represent were interested in acting on climate change but for a diverse set of reasons.

A sign at the U.S. Climate Action Center

James Brainard, the Mayor of Carmel, Indiana discussed how in his town, conservative leadership has demonstrated that climate change initiates can work when they focus on helping public health, creating jobs, and saving money. The mayor worked to enact policies to make the city more walkable, thereby reducing the amount of time the average driver would have to commute to work and reducing overall air pollution in the area. Brainard also worked to increase green space in Carmel by creating 1,000 acres of parkland and planting more trees on city streets. In addition, the city’s vehicle fleet was changed to run entirely on hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles. But perhaps most significant, the entirely Republican City Council unanimously voted to stay committed to the Paris Agreement goals.

The idea that initiatives like these are being undertaken in a small, red-leaning town in Indiana are often met with surprise. Brainard  is regularly asked how he was able to convince members of his City Council who were skeptical of climate science to adopt these programs. In response to these questions, he highlighted the importance of getting to the same end goal through emphasizing different messages. Since the threat of climate change is not always tangible to a person that has not directly felt the effects or learned about the issue in great detail, reducing energy might not seem seem like priority issue to address. However, when Brainard mentioned to his City Council members that switching all the city street lights to LED bulbs would produce a 22% return on investment annually from lower electricity bills for the city, they were suddenly happy to hear more about similar cost saving measures.

Brainard emphasized that there is a tradition of non-partisanship when it comes to protecting the planet, highlighting the fact that it was Teddy Roosevelt who set aside millions of acres of park land for the national park system, that Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, and that Ronald Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol that banned ozone depleting substances. The City of Carmel, Indiana, has been able to demonstrate that acting on the issue of climate change is not and should not be a partisan issue.