In the Sunbelt, Young Climate Activists Push Cities to Cut Emissions, Whether Their Mayors Listen or Not

Nashville and Jacksonville, economic peers and competitors, offer a climate tale of two cities. Nashville has a plan; Jacksonville, not so much.

This story is a collaboration with ADAPT, a product of WJCT Public Media in Jacksonville, Fla. WJCT is a member of ICN’s National Reporting Network-Southeast.

On the day Nashville Mayor John Cooper took office in September 2019, young climate activists with the Sunrise Movement staged a sit-in in his office lobby, demanding Tennessee’s largest city take action on climate change.

Cooper, a Democrat, agreed with the activists, and two years later, the city had a new sustainability and climate action plan, including a pledge to cut citywide carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The same month the climate activists protested in Nashville, a large youth-led crowd descended on Jacksonville, Florida’s City Hall to call for climate action. But Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, didn’t make an appearance at the event or speak with the organizers.

Compared with Nashville—a city the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce considers an economic peer and competitor—Jacksonville is doing relatively little to reduce its carbon footprint and does not have a climate action plan, although many believe the city is starting to move in the right direction and should look to examples like Nashville for the way forward.