Grantee Profiles

Southeast Coastal Climate Network

In early 2007, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) convened a group of small, environmental NGOs working along the Southeast coastline, to engage in a proactive and unified response to the impacts of climate change on coastal communities. The Southeast Coastal Climate Network (SECCN) mobilizes an educated and engaged citizenry to motivate leaders at all levels of government to take steps to address issues of global warming and to prepare for a sustainable energy future.

Below is an interview with Melissa Meehan (SACE’s Florida Climate Organizer) and Ulla Reeves (SACE’s Regional Program Director), about the need for coastal climate organizing in the Southeast, and the Network’s strategy for engaging citizens.

WestWind Foundation: Why coastal organizing in the Southeast? What makes this region important?

Melissa Meehan: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy believes that one of the most important steps that America can take is to enact strong federal legislation to really deal with the problem of global warming and to start to immediately reduce global warming pollution. One of the important ways of doing that is through a strong federal global warming bill. If you look back at the history of votes on, specifically, a federal renewable standard, you’ll see that the Southeast has been a big barrier, and in fact held back the rest of the United States. There is still a lot of doubt and lack of acknowledgement of global warming in the region, also, so it’s so important to educate these communities. Additionally, the Southeast is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. If you look at the Southeast, we are a target area for extreme weather events and natural disasters.

Ulla Reeves: Some of the ecosystems that we focus on in the Southeast coastal region include the Everglades, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, historic Charleston, Savannah, and Miami. In the Southeast there’s a really unique balance between very densely populated urban areas right on the coast coupled with very unique ecosystems. The other thing that is very unique about the Southeast is that it is disproportionately contributing to global warming, by the ways the region uses and produces energy and also by development patterns in terms of sprawl. Sixty percent of Southeast power comes from coal. If you were to view the Southeast as a nation, we are top of the pack in the world for greenhouse gas emissions.

WWF: What groups are you trying to engage?

MM: There are a lot of different communities concentrated on the coastline, and we work in direct partnership with environmental groups through the SE Coastal Climate Network that have a history of organizing coastal communities. Within coastal areas there are a lot of specific communities that we’re reaching out to, for example fishermen and the fishing community, low-income residents who may be disproportionately affected by some of the sea level rise issues or other environmental hazards. We also have a strong faith-based organizing component that we’re ramping up. So we have a lot of different communities that we’re reaching out to.

WWF: What is your main strategy for rallying citizens around climate change? What compels them to act?

MM: People seem like they are most eager to take action when they understand how this global issue of global warming will hit home for them. One of the things that helps us do that is when we show people images of what sea level rise does to their community. We do that in partnership with Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization that promotes green building solutions to global warming problems. There are positive messages here, too. When you tell people that the right thing to do for global warming also saves them money on their electric bill, those are the messages that resonate the most with the public. Global warming solutions will bring green jobs and stimulate the economy.

WWF: Florida has shown tremendous leadership on climate and energy issues, but many other states in the region are lagging way behind. How do you work with gaps in leadership from state to state?

UR: It varies from state to state and what we try to do is highlight the successes where we have them and look for the champions in different locations. It can be at every level of decision-making, but in every state we can find somebody somewhere who is driving the green economy and addressing global warming concerns and we can showcase opportunities. These include everything from green business to decision-makers who are voting to encourage clean energy and global warming solutions. It definitely is a challenge, but as we link up those decision-makers with each other who are encouraging the use of alternative fuels and voting on climate bills, we’ll showcase them and show that we do have people here in the Southeast who are responsibly addressing this serious issue. We also work with state government officials who are in the process of actively addressing climate change through Commissions and Action Teams and highlight their progress with our Network members to encourage progress in their areas.

MM: One of the ways I’ve worked on this in organizing in Florida is to make climate protection a smart place to be. When leaders take action and they get thank you letters from their constituents and they get those letters to the editor praising them for taking action that recognition is something that they can feel good about. And not only that, when you look at the approval ratings, climate protection is becoming a smart place to be. The more we can hold those leaders up and put pressure on those who aren’t taking action and let them hear the voices of their constituents telling them “we’re disappointed that you didn’t support clean energy”, those messages can penetrate into the political landscape, and we’ll have the wind behind our back in terms of the general green movement. You find the message that resonates in the community that you’re working in.

WWF: How would the role of the Network change if federal climate legislation is passed?

UR: That brings up the issue of adaptation. I think there’s two things: We can’t rest on our laurels after federal legislation is passed because it’s the actual implementation of climate legislation at the state level that’s important. I think we would look at engaging the coastal network to see what the legislation would look like as it filters down to each state in the Network. How do you make sure it is fairly applied? How do you boost any local and state markets that would be created? What does implementation of carbon regulations mean for, say, South Carolina? Federal movement on climate change also, raises the adaptation opportunities even more. We need to stay tuned as to how mitigation and adaptation strategies interact and intersect; for example sometimes addressing vulnerabilities to global warming impacts actually require more energy and global warming pollution, so how do we create smart, win-win approaches? We’ve got to have a dual, big-picture approach.

MM: SACE has a history of serving as a watchdog for some of these utilities in ensuring that they are really doing what they say they’re doing on conservation and efficiency and cleaning up their pollution. I think we’ll continue to play that watchdog role. Also, there are so many opportunities for wonderful entrepreneurs to really make a difference, but there is also the possibility that people will cheat the system, or take advantage of it. We want to be sure that we’ve got our eyes on the big picture, and that we’re aware of the ramifications of new clean energy technologies, and what are these carbon credits, and are they supporting true renewables? There have to be a lot of people ready to keep an eye on that market and making sure that it is stopping global warming pollution.

Learn More:

Architecture 2030:

Southeast Coastal Climate Network members:
Alabama Environmental Council:
Audubon of South Carolina:
Carolina Climate Network (SC):
Center for Sustainable Coast (GA):
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (MD, VA):
Chesapeake Climate Action Network (DC, MD, VA):
Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana:
Coastal Conservation League (SC):
Conservancy of Southwest Florida:
Environmental Defense Fund (national):
Environmental Protection Agency (national):
Florida Atlantic University:
Florida Billfish:
Florida Climate Alliance:
Georgia Conservancy:
Gulf Restoration Network (LA):
ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability (national):
Lowcountry Institute (SC):
National Wildlife Federation (national):
Nature Conservancy (national):
North Carolina Coastal Federation:
North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light:
Open Dome Productions (SC):
Sierra Club of South Carolina:
South Carolina Wildlife Federation:
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (regional):
Southern Environmental Law Center (regional):
World Resources Institute (national):

Last updated November 13, 2008