Kate Meis is the Executive Director of the Local Government Commission. Under Kate’s leadership LGC has become a leading organization addressing climate change in California— advancing the first California Adaptation Forum, helping to create the Statewide Energy Efficiency Collaborative and developing the CivicSpark Governor’s Initiative aimed at increasing local capacity to respond to climate change. Kate is active in national, statewide and regional efforts to advance clean energy, increase resilience and enhance community livability. Kate oversees LGC’s support for leading local governments providing: model policies and projects, peer support networks, events, direct assistance, and statewide advocacy aimed at addressing our most pressing community challenges.
How did you become involved in your current career?
My path to supporting local policymakers on sustainability initiatives involved a few important career and life lessons— first working through the University of California Cooperative Extension I had the opportunity to work with an amazing Extension Advisor, Manuel Jimenez, to start a community garden in the small underserved Central Valley community of Woodlake. The garden became a beacon of hope and pride, which taught me that local community development projects are a great entry point for broader civic engagement and sustainability initiatives. Second I did social work supporting youth from challenged families and neighborhoods, which was a crash course in the generational challenges that too many people are born into— underlining for me the importance of addressing systemic social and racial equity issues within all of our community improvement projects. Lastly I conducted research on alternative transportation alternatives, which led me to understand—and want to support—the role that cities and counties play in improving community health and sustainability by prioritizing investments and directing development to the central community core with a mix of daily destinations close enough to bike, walk or take transit.
What environmental issues are of most concern to you?
Climate change and racial equity are the two issues that are most likely to keep me up at night. We are already facing the impacts of climate change (from sea level rise to extreme heat and drought) and these impacts won’t be linear— we have a short window to make some drastic changes before we reach irreversible tipping points with potentially catastrophic results. Climate change will compound the growing racial gap (in terms of income and access to critical needs such as housing, health care, transportation and education) by disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable among us that don’t have resources available to move or switch jobs to avoid extreme heat, flooding or other impacts and don’t have the safety net to pay for increasing energy and gas prices. Luckily, there are a number of cities and counties piloting innovative local solutions, increasing state action (especially in California) and a growing awareness of the need for national leadership— I am hopeful that together we can tackle these intractable challenges that will define this generation.
What do you think are some challenges and opportunities facing women in the environmental movement today?
These issues will require new partnerships and cross-sector collaboration at a scale that is commensurate with the extent of the challenges. Women are uniquely positioned to break down traditional silos and address difficult issues with an approach that values transparency, partnerships and stewardship above individual gain. To be successful we will need more talented and passionate women engaging in environmental initiatives- we have an opportunity and a responsibility to lift up and equip the next generation of leaders.
What are your suggestions on how WEN members can become more involved in your sector and the environmental movement?
Run for a local office! In California’s 58 counties, women comprise just 25% of all county board supervisors and in its 482 cities women hold 28% of all city council seats. Local government is often the pipeline for the state office, which helps explain why only 28% of legislators are female. We need to do a better job at building the capacity of future government leaders that can represent the diversity of the state.