Who is the Thurston Climate Action Team and do they wear capes?


Did you miss me? Apologies if you missed my column last week (and thank you for noticing my absence), but the virus that has been going around caught me, and I was down for the count for the full week! Word of warning, if you start to get an unusually “productive” cough, clear your calendar for the week and get ready for lots of medicine and sleep time! Given that Saturday was Earth Day (I know I am not the first to mention this), I had planned on featuring the Thurston Climate Action Team in my column, and fortunately for me, as our Thurston County Commissioners have proclaimed April Earth Month, I can still follow through with this.

Who is the Thurston Climate Action Team and Do They Wear Capes?

One of the things that has taken me a while to get used to is how many environmentally focused nonprofit organizations reside in our county. Texans are always bragging about their love for the land, but honestly, they do not do a very good job preserving it. So, when I first met Melinda Hughes, the Executive Director of the Thurston Climate Action Team, better known as TCAT, I had to politely ask what sets them apart from other similar organizations. Hughes explained that TCAT is the leading grassroots nonprofit organization focused on climate action in Thurston County. Founded in 2009, TCAT works with local jurisdictional leaders, staff, like-minded organizations, and community members to take climate action for a healthier Thurston County. According to Hughes, “TCAT was the driving force behind getting our four principal jurisdictions (the County and cities of Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater) to adopt and now implement the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan (TCMP), a plan to slow greenhouse gas emissions while also considering equity.”

TCAT as Action Heroes

TCAT coordinates 8 Action groups on the following: advocacy, trees, equity, buildings, transportation, youth, art, and food and agriculture, as well as heads the Thurston Thrives Climate and Clean Energy Committee. According to Hughes, these Climate Action Groups give an opportunity for community members to volunteer with TCAT in different areas of interest. For instance, the TCAT Transportation Group volunteers to educate the public on the benefits of driving electric vehicles. TCAT recently enlisted another volunteer group to collaborate on the design and paint a Climate Justice Mural located at the 4th Avenue roundabout in Olympia. “By acting locally and thinking globally we are making climate action history!” says Hughes. If you want more information on volunteering for one of these teams (and thus being a superhero as well), click here.   

TCAT as Educators and Advocates

 Currently, TCAT is wrapping up a Climate Justice grant from the US EPA to help BIPOC communities weatherize their homes as well as planning for a fall 2023 South Sound Climate Conference. TCAT, along with other groups, is asking our leaders at the state and local level to protect our older, mature forests, also known as Legacy Forests, as well as pushing for more urban tree canopy and for smart development preserving agricultural land along with prairies, forests, and shorelines. “We are asking our elected leaders to prioritize climate action in their budgets and work plans as well as 10-year comprehensive plans,” says Hughes.

 Heroes and Villains

Given that it is still Earth Month, I asked Hughes to give me her State of the Climate address with three things that we should be excited about and three things that still need work. Here is what she suggested.

Three good things

  • We’re seeing a lot of movement to electrify the grid as well as buildings.
  • As is often the case, technology is coming along to make a significant and positive difference in climate change. For example, more and more car companies are moving their car inventory towards electric power or hybrid. The charging infrastructure is also coming along. 
  • We have discovered that art is a great way to introduce the community to climate action. In doing so, we can move the narrative from gloom and doom to a future full of hope.

Three not-good things

  • While we are making progress here at the local level, our long-term success also depends on policy and actions at the state and federal levels. For example, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) auctions off tracts of forest for harvesting, and lately, our older mature forests that sequester carbon have been up for auction. This is despite the Thurston County Commissioners and the public asking Washington DNR not to touch our older forests in the Capitol Forest.
  • Also related to forests, we are seeing a lot of timber being shipped overseas through the Port of Olympia. Not only do we lose that timber and carbon sequestration piece, we also cannot tax that import due to federal laws. Likewise, despite being part of our community, the Port of Olympia has not adopted the Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan.
  • We are still seeing a lot of development along the shores. Protecting shorelines is one of the best, if not the best, ways to mitigate the climate damage to Puget Sound, which, of course, is prime habitat for Orcas, salmon, and other wildlife. We need stronger policies to protect the shoreline.

WANTED: More Superheroes

We may be coming to the end of another Global Volunteer Month, but that does not mean opportunities to volunteer will not continue to exist. Global Volunteer Month is a time to recognize volunteers and people who actively support their communities, whether through volunteerism or other elements around the Points of Light Civic Circle®. The Civic Circle® helps individuals connect to opportunities and understand that doing good comes in many forms. It is a framework that represents your power to lead, lend support and act for causes you care about and to lead a civic life. According to Points of Light, there are many paths to living a full civic life, and now is the perfect time to plan to join the celebration, today and every day. At the Points of Light website, you can download toolkits and access resources to encourage volunteerism and civic action, recognize volunteers, and raise awareness for your organization’s needs and funding opportunities.

WANTED: Super Artists

  • Calling all artists, culture bearers and creatives! Apply by May 8 with your proposal for an Armory Arts Intervention. Help take the building for a test drive to inspire future space use and design. Bring your pop-up events, art installations, workshops, cultural celebrations, performances, films, talks, art markets, digital projections, & creative energy!
  • Calling all Olympia middle school artists! Creative artists are needed for the 2024 Water Resources Stewardship Through Art calendar. The purpose of the calendar is to promote important stormwater pollution prevention and water conservation actions! Selected artists receive a $50 Visa gift card and recognition at a City Council meeting. The submission deadline is Friday, June 2nd. Visit for guidelines and entry form.

Soliciting your ideas

If you know of a nonprofit that is doing something great, celebrating a success, needs some outstanding volunteers, or hosting an event, let me know! This column (aside from a little education) celebrates nonprofits

Mary Beth Harrington, CVA (Certified Volunteer Administrator) lives in Tumwater. She travels the country speaking at conferences and to individual organizations articulating issues facing nonprofits. Send your ideas to her at


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