First off this week, big news from up on high (in our federal government, that is): President Biden used the Defense Production Act to accelerate the production of heat pumps, insulation, and solar panels in the US, which is a huge boon as we need to move towards decarbonizing our buildings as fast as we can. The move gets the USA a little less reliant on oil and gas generally, and Russian oil and gas specifically, both big wins. It’s also a huge step forward in the bigger picture as it is one of the first real, bold actions on climate that Biden has taken during his time in office, and the hope is this is just the first of many.
Next, I want to take a minute to leave our birds-eye, federal-government-level view of the climate problem to zoom in to something a little more personal. I was having dinner with a friend this past week, and we were talking about the climate when she asked a question about what everyday folks should be doing in terms of staving off the climate crisis– like, what exactly needs to happen on an individual level for the world to be saved? I said something that retrospectively feels a little canned about being engaged and talking about the climate crisis and figuring out where you can participate. All of which I stand by as good things to do, but I was left feeling like I didn’t give a satisfactory answer– that my response was vague and didn’t truly inspire confidence in our ability to create change as individuals. Which bothered me and feels a little embarrassing to admit, because that’s kind of what all this (On the Level) is all about: helping folks figure out how to take meaningful action on climate.
Fortunately for me, I was reminded of how I should answer that question by an excellent article written by Rebecca Leber on Vox titled “Climate change is all about power. You have more than you think: Think less like a consumer and more like an activist.” In it, Leber dismisses two common climate action misconceptions: a) that individual actions like driving an electric vehicle or putting solar panels on your house are the keys to success, but also b) that individuals can’t make any difference at all. It’s sometimes a delicate balancing act when talking about climate actions to get folks to feel accountable for their actions but not overly or underly so, and Leber threads the needle by emphasizing that individuals have such an important role to play in combating the climate crisis, but that that role is being a part of something bigger than just yourself. In her words,
“Unless you’re a Fortune 500 executive or have a taste for flying on private jets and owning supersized yachts, your biggest capacity for change probably won’t be as a consumer. It will be as a citizen, worker, and community member… The key is thinking in terms of collective power — like a climate activist — to make a difference.”
This discussion of roles and mindsets may feel a bit like semantics, but I’d argue that this differentiation between trying to turn the tide of the climate crisis as an individual consumer versus as a member of the climate movement can have substantial implications. We may not have written about it quite as eloquently as Leber, but that belief in the power of movements and the need to connect individuals to those broader movements are the two pillars On the Level is based upon.
Ok, so, how does an individual become part of something bigger? Well, our first suggestion is (of course) to check out the Climate Action Explorer for ideas on how to get involved in a way that works for you, but Leber outlines some very helpful steps, ideas, and case studies (and a fun thing called “power mapping”) in the rest of her article as well, so I’d definitely recommend reading it in full.
And if I were to go back to dinner with my friend, I might say something similar to what I said about being engaged and talking about climate with friends and family, but I’d also emphasize that our influence as individuals is strongest when we’re a part of something bigger–so the best thing we can all do is to do a little self-reflection about what skills, interests, and abilities we can bring to a climate group, or how we can get a group we’re already a part of to focus on climate, and then go do those things.
Which still feels a bit vague. But I think that’s because climate change is not just one problem with one answer; it’s a collection of interlocking, overlapping, paradoxically-connected problems with a similar hodge-podge of solutions, which does not lead to concise, satisfying answers. The good news is, there’s room for everyone in the climate movement, and we all have a part to play.