Iowa City looks to create climate conversations with new ambassadors program

The Iowa City Climate Ambassadors, run through the city, will aim to bring the fight against climate change to an individual, community level.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Climate Action Engagement Specialist Sarah Gardner stands outside Iowa City Hall on October 7 2020. Gardner and fellow Climate Change Ambassadors have a primary goal of bringing the issue of climate change to an individual level.

Samantha Murray, News Reporter

The City of Iowa City will launch Iowa City Climate Ambassadors this winter, a new program that aims to inspire people to work against climate change by creating initiatives on the individual level.

The program stems from the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan that strives to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The city’s research showed that only 5 percent of the total carbon emissions were under the control of Iowa City City Hall.

Assistant City Manager Ashley Monroe said the plan has identified and is working through 65 specific projects for climate action, and the city has already laid the framework for some. The climate ambassadors will be able to learn, share, and support these projects, she said.

“This continuation of support is essential for us to encourage everyone in Iowa City to take steps to improvement,” Monroe wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Iowa City Climate Action Engagement Specialist Sarah Gardner said the city wanted this program to assist the community in managing the other 95 percent of carbon emissions.

Iowa City has implemented a few different programs at the local-government level to fight against climate change in the past, Gardner said. The city has 13 years of data on its greenhouse gas emissions and declared a climate emergency after the Paris Climate Accords.

Gardner said the Climate Ambassadors program aims to continuously grow, with the first ten members taken in and trained this winter and with more to follow in the coming year.

“I think what we’re looking for are folks who are engaged with having these conversations who are interested in learning more about the specifics of Iowa City’s plans and ways that they can be involved,” Gardner said.

Gardner, who helps run the ambassador program, said the training would last eight weeks, utilizing a combination of self-paced online modules and weekly meetings to go in-depth with the material, and have guest speakers come in and challenge them on a new task each week.

Because of COVID-19, Gardner said most of the program will be held online, but the city hopes to host in-person activities in the future, including field-trip opportunities. After completion of the training, she said, the ambassadors will take to the community and begin hosting a friends and family climate discussion.

“The reason we do [the discussion] is because the data shows that most Americans don’t have regular conversations about climate change with people they know,” Gardner said. “At the same time, the data shows that when people do have those discussions with people, they know they’re far more likely to take action, so we want to make it part of the everyday conversation here in Iowa City.”

In addition to creating conversations among family and friends, Gardner said the ambassadors want to create conversations among different Iowa City groups, whether they are focused on climate change or part of something more intersectional.

Leader of Iowa City Climate Advocates Eric Johnson said his group focuses on climate-change conversations and actions in Congress, rather than the local community. But he said Climate Ambassadors sounds like a good complementary force.

“We’re excited by the local initiatives that Iowa City is undertaking and proud to live in a city that is setting a leading example for the actions that we can take in the absence of national leadership on climate change,” Johnson wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan. “We need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to climate change and Iowa City is doing all the right things.”