Amazing SLO

July Great Story by Katie Webster, Central Coast Fellow

San Luis Obispo is an incredibly progressive town. The city government has banned drive thrus, plastic bags, Styrofoam, and the legislature has essentially created a tobacco-free space for its citizens. Bike lanes line every street that isn’t a designated bike boulevard or bike path. San Luis Obispo County is one of few in the state in which all of its cities have a Climate Action Plan in place. The city staff that I have worked with are very proud of the steps they have made to make this city what it is,and they ought to be.

Personally, I have learned and grown a lot during my service year and have changed the way I think about a lot of things and many of my behaviors. The drought has made me more conscious of water conservation. I bike to work now every week – something I was actually afraid to try a few months ago. I get upset every time I see a car parked with an idling engine. I even felt guilty flying on an airplane to visit my family.

Working every day under the umbrella of climate change, I sometimes actually forget that there are places in our country that are not even acknowledging climate change, or can’t. I took a week of vacation to travel back home to Georgia this month. This trip granted me some time to relax but also provided me some perspective to my experiences in California so far.

The weather here on the Central Coast is so mild, air conditioners are rarely seen. That is not possible in other parts of the country where the humidity and heat makes it unbearable to be outdoors in the summer months. Fresh produce is incredibly cheap and available in San Luis Obispo, despite there seeming to be a “California inflation” on the prices of everything here. I went to the grocery store with my dad, and a handful of produce for just one meal cost almost $10. That may not seem like much, but if you’re of low income in rural Georgia, you’re probably going to spend those ten bucks at the fast food restaurant down the street. Single stream recycling is the norm here (which I am still amazed by), but back home recycling is such a chore that most people don’t bother doing it.

SLO is amazingly ahead of the curve when it comes to environmental action, despite its size. But it may be its small-town quality that the citizens can unite behind a given cause and actually get some action going. Returning home reminded me that there is still very much work to be done compared to the progress of San Luis Obispo. Every time I think about just how serious climate change is, I am frightened of how much we must do if we, humanity, want to still have a home on this planet in the decades ahead. In the face of the impending doom of global warming, I choose to surround myself with voices of optimism, who say, yes, this is a huge task before us, but it is also an enormous opportunity to advance together as humankind into a more resilient, equitable and ethical future for our society. These voices inspire me to keep going and keep doing work that is meaningful to me.