A Conversation with the Founder of Climate Action Campaign, Nicole Capretz
How’d you get interested in sustainability?
I had a college internship with an organization run by Ralph Nader. It was a non-profit focused on promoting clean energy, and it was there that I got a first-hand account of how fossil fuels were at the root of so many issues– air pollution, economic inequality, national security risks–and it shook my world.
From there, I went to Law School, and later worked on helping schools improve energy efficiency and gain access to clean energy. I spent some time with the Environmental Health Coalition and later worked for San Diego City Council and the Mayor’s office. At the city, I had the opportunity to help shape urban sustainability and led a team that wrote the San Diego Climate Action Plan–which was the first U.S. city to legally commit to 100% renewable energy through a binding climate plan, and it really set the bar for other cities.
What led you to found Climate Action Campaign?
There were some political changes and a new mayor came in who was not as sustainability-focused. It was clear that the city’s ambitious Climate Plan was at risk unless we garnered more political support. So, I formed the Climate Action Campaign, which was primarily focused on building a broad coalition of diverse stakeholders to help persuade the mayor to officially adopt the city’s plan, as well as support creation of a public power agency. Now, we’re focused on replicating the same landmark goals in cities throughout San Diego and even in Orange County through advocacy and community engagement.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
When the city embraced a binding goal of transitioning to 100% renewable by 2035, which set a national precedent as the first top 10 U.S. city to make this commitment. Making it binding was absolutely essential–we went to every community planning group meeting, got everyone from all corners of the city to support the plan.
This was significant for the city, but also set the stage for the entire state of California to eventually adopt the 100% renewable goal. It seems commonplace now, but when we were talking about it in 2013 it was considered way out there!
What needs to happen for San Diego to meet its climate goals?
We need to transform our streets and how they’re designed. San Diego has been built for cars and most of our residents have only known the car. Right now, we have 87% of commuters driving alone. Without a doubt, the transport and land-use part is the hardest piece of the climate puzzle.
Meeting our climate goals requires such a fundamental transport shift and a major redesign of our streets. The city set goals around mode shift to get to 50% of commuters biking, walking, or on to transit. Achieving this will require removing parking, adding transit lanes, building connected and protected bike-lanes, and adding traffic calming features. A lot of residents still don’t see this as a possible future–in a bit of a standoff and it’s really about political will at this point, but we have a growing community will and the city just formed a mobility task force to develop a roadmap to try to get this goal on track.
What’s the role of e-scooters in the fight against climate change?
Shared e-scooters provide an opportunity to get around cities without a car. They’ve had their challenges, but they are popular; people are riding. They’re highlighting the disparity and how much we’ve designed our streets just for cars. They are part of the solution, but we also really need the supportive infrastructure.
What can scooter companies do to help cities succeed in climate action?
We need political and community will to make our streets safer for all road users. Making change takes time, and we have to play the long game. We need help with advocacy–these bike lanes don’t just happen. It’s a lot of work in the trenches, but cyclists, scooterists, climate advocates, we all need to show up at city hall and make the pitch. This would help change the community perception if scooter companies and riders were on the front lines together, demanding safe streets and pushing for climate solutions crucial to protect our future.