Climate Action Now | Sustainability

There is no more time to waste. Climate action is needed NOW. Libraries should be visible leaders and partner in this effort not only to protect the assets the public has entrusted them with but also to ensure library workers and community members have the support they need, through libraries, in the face of disruption.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich head shotClimate scientists predict we will look back on the years 2020 and 2021 and think to ourselves, “Those were the good old days.” Record-setting heat, record amounts of scorched earth thanks to wildfires, record numbers of tropical storms, and a record number of freak natural disasters like derechos—that’s what 2020 had to offer. And 2021 hasn’t been much better.

In October, the national security community, including the departments of Homeland Security and Defense as well as the National Security Council and director of national intelligence, issued reports on the climate risks we face. They researched what the inevitable food shortages caused by climate change will mean for national security, what fights for clean drinking water will do to communities and nations, and the effects of the predicted massive climate migration by folks displaced by climate change.

In September, more than 200 medical journals, including The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the British Medical Journal, issued an unprecedented joint statement, “Call for Emergency Action to Limit Global Temperature Increases, Restore Biodiversity, and Protect Health,” urging world leaders to cut heat-trapping emissions to avoid “catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse,” naming climate change as the “greatest threat” to global public health. “Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with COVID-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.”

Also in September, thanks to Executive Order 14008, 24 major federal agencies issued adaptation and resilience plans that outline the steps each agency will take to ensure their facilities and operations adapt to and are increasingly resilient to climate change impacts. Identified risks include “rising costs to maintain and repair damaged infrastructure from more frequent and extreme weather events, challenges to program effectiveness and readiness, and health and safety risks to federal employees who work outside.” The federal government has recognized through these reports that by acting now to better manage and mitigate climate risks, they will “minimize disruptions to federal operations, assets and programs while creating safer working conditions for employees.”

There is no more time to waste. Climate action is needed NOW. Libraries should be visible leaders and partner in this effort not only to protect the assets the public has entrusted them with but also to ensure library workers and community members have the support they need, through libraries, in the face of disruption.

What does your library’s climate adaptation and resilience plan look like? If you don’t have one, you’re not alone. So, let’s get started.



Is your library located in a flood-prone area? In an area prone to tornadoes? In an area prone to tropical storms? In a neighborhood that suffers from the heat island effect? In a water-stressed area? In a region experiencing more power outages?

Ensure regional-specific resilience is addressed in both the operations of the current facility and the design and construction specifications for new construction and modernization projects. Check out the Resilience Analysis and Planning Tool (RAPT) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),, to help with this research.

What this can look like:

  • Setting a net-zero energy goal for the facility, seeking efficiencies in design and operations while producing energy on-site (e.g., solar panels) to ensure the library can operate off the grid should there be extended power outages.
  • Establishing the library facility as a cooling center in a neighborhood that suffers from the heat island effect to provide relief to folks who may not have air-conditioning or are unhoused.
  • Minimizing water usage in drought-prone areas by installing water conserving fixtures, using only native plants in landscaping, and using greywater systems.



Libraries must lead by example in the worldwide effort to decarbonize. Energy decarbonization requires a shift in the energy system to stop carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere before they are ever released—and using carbon capture technologies to remove CO2 from the air after it has already been released. This involves decarbonizing power grids, decarbonizing supply chains, and utilizing carbon sequestration in the pursuit of net-zero emissions and a carbon-neutral global economy.

What this can look like:

  • Increasing the energy efficiency of library facilities and technology.
  • No more use of fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas in library facilities.
  • Investment in solar and geothermal systems.
  • Electric vehicle (EV) use by libraries and installation of EV charging stations on library property.



Climate change will continue to exacerbate existing health and socioeconomic inequities, placing vulnerable populations at even more risk. Libraries should play an active role in climate justice work to strengthen community resilience.

Racial justice organization the NAACP identifies four areas to focus on in this effort:

  • Advance food justice;
  • Advocate for transportation equity;
  • Uphold civil and human rights in emergency management; and
  • Facilitate participatory democracy.

What this can look like:

  • Offer programs that educate neighbors about issues that may not equally impact community members, such as redlining, the heat island effect, and the harm of living near coal plants and other toxic facilities.
  • Establish bicycle/e-bike checkouts at the library and bicycle repair stations and classes.
  • Host or join a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT teaches local volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them on basic disaster response skills.

As I have implored our readers through this column for the past five years: DO SOMETHING. There is no time to lose.

Rebekkah Smith Aldrich is Executive Director, Mid-Hudson Library System, Poughkeepsie, NY; a judge for LJ’s 2015 New Landmark Libraries; and a 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker.

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