Author ORCID Identifier

George Homsy:

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climate change, local government, leadership, capacity, citizen participation


With the U.S. federal government stepping away from climate change, a number of cities have indicated that they will continue efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Broad statistical analysis and case studies of larger and often progressive cities have provided some insight into what drives local governments to act on climate change mitigation. However, the vast majority of U.S. municipalities, most of them small, do nothing. Understanding what might drive smaller, poorer, and less progressive places is important if local governments are expected to take the lead on this global commons issue. In this exploratory study, I examine a group of “unlikely pioneers” – communities that statistical modeling indicates are least likely to undertake climate change action, but then do act. Using interviews and document reviews in twelve of these communities, I seek to answer the question: what drives these unlikely pioneers to act? I find that local leaders reframe climate action as a way to save money and attract economic development. Personal environmental ethics drive small town leaders to act on climate change. Citizen committees can provide technical resources and political support. Otherwise, and more subtly, citizens can create a political environment that reduces resistance to climate change policymaking. Despite research that indicates fiscal health is correlated to increased sustainability, no communities in this study initiated climate mitigation from general revenues. All required grants or other revenue to act. In four of the communities, the income from municipally-owned utilities provided the fiscal resources for climate change programs.

Publisher Attribution

This is a post-peer review, pre-publisher version of an article published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, which has been published in final form at



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