While individual action absolutely makes a difference and is essential in tackling the climate crisis, large-scale, systemic transformation must occur if we are to adequately address the issue. How we function on a societal level, what we prioritize, where we place funding, how we relate internationally, all of this and more must change. We must stop drilling for oil, stop burning coal and stop cutting down forests. We must support a strong network of public transportation and place resources in weatherization and energy optimization generally. We must switch to electric vehicles and we must drastically reduce and better manage waste. We must conserve the natural spaces that still exist and place significant funding and prioritization into restoring those that have been demolished, harnessing the capacity of nature to address climate change while also working to restore balance in the natural world.
At the same time, we must stop supporting systems of oppression and colonization and instead uphold the rights of all. We must address the immense inequality woven into how we currently live our lives and the economies that support those ways of life. These systems of oppression and inequality go hand-in-hand with the climate crisis. Capitalist society is founded with the ultimate goal of personal wealth accumulation. We must abandon this goal and embrace a way of living and relating that prioritizes the most good for all.
How do individual citizens exert influence on a systemic level? How do we confront the power held by corporations and special interests-funded politicians?
It turns out that there are many ways to work for systemic, large-scale change. First, as fuel for your action, remember that all systemic change evolved through the work of individuals coming together, playing to their individual strengths and uniting those strengths in an even stronger, more powerful collaborative whole.
Here are a few ways you might get involved addressing climate change at the systemic level:
It is critical in this moment to have the right people in office. Those making decisions for the rest of us must be acting quickly to address the climate crisis. Voting is one of the most important – perhaps the most important – ways we can impact the system as a whole. It is time to support candidates for all levels of office who prioritize climate action and the policies and regulations needed to cut emissions. Be sure to educate yourself ahead of all elections and get out and vote! Encourage others to do the same. And, if possible, pitch in and help the campaigns of candidates running on progressive climate platforms. Attend town hall meetings and ask questions about climate policy. Make sure candidates know climate is a priority for you.
If you have funds to spare, considering donating to support impactful action on climate change. Whether local initiatives or organizations working for systemic change, even contributions that might seem small can have a great impact. I cannot tell you how many times, while running crowdfunding campaigns for A Climate to Thrive, that I have sent a note to our whole email list saying “If everyone gave $10, we would surpass our goal.” And it is always true. While the large gifts can move mountains, so to can the many smaller gifts when joined together.
Climate activism comes in many forms. It might mean joining large-scale days of action, adding your body and voice to a march or protest. It might mean showing up at local town meetings when a climate policy is on the agenda. It might mean writing letters to your representatives or the local newspapers, pushing for climate action, or proposing and working for regulations like local plastic-bag bans or working with other artists on performance or visual art statements. There are many ways to make your voice heard, ensuring that you are participating in the democratic process.
Local, solutions-focused initiatives
While national and international action on climate change stalls (particularly in the United States), local initiatives are rising up everyone to take the lead on climate solutions. Whether through nongovernmental, grassroots organizations or actions taken through state and local governments, concerned citizens across the globe are finding ways to come together and enact solutions.
There are several ways to get involved in local, solutions-focused action. First, look for a local initiative in your area and, if such an initiative exists, join in! This type of citizen-driven work needs the individual strengths, expertise and experience of many and there are lots of ways to get involved. Does your town, city or state government have initiatives of its own, and can you support those projects?
If no such initiatives exist, there are several ways to catalyze projects. An exciting new trend is the declaration of climate emergency occurring in towns and cities around the globe. As long as the declaration includes a commitment to action and a timeframe for developing and implementing a plan, these declarations are a powerful avenue for local, government-supported action.
If you decide that it is best to take action independent of your local government (hopefully, they will ultimately jump onboard!), consider calling together other concerned local citizens to develop a grassroots initiative like A Climate to Thrive. ACTT is developing a toolkit for communities interested in launching similar projects. In the meanwhile, the EPA has this resource for cities that is also very helpful for local action generally and the National League of Cities offers this resource for planning and action.
Get involved in government – support policies, regulations, run for office
Local governments are leading the way in progressive, essential climate policy. Let your representatives at both the city and state level know that you want to see this type of policy in your area. Get involved in developing policy, if you can. And if leadership interests you, consider running for the local town or city council or helping your town start a sustainability committee or task force charged with exploring sustainability initiatives for your town and bringing possible programs to the town government.
Help tell a new story
In order to build a new system, we must believe that system is possible. At the moment, we are still deeply entrenched in the exploitative system that caused the climate crisis. But the armour of that system is cracking. Disillusionment is growing. We must harness our frustration, our grief, our doubts about the status quo. We must match that energy with muscular hope, deep courage, creativity and wisdom. We must come together and craft a new story, a story about a system of life founded on respect. As we tell a new story, we shift the narrative that drives the actions that make up our days. The ripples cast by the stories we tell consequently shape our lives. Whatever else you do, weave your words, your hope and your actions into a new, regenerative story. Encourage others to do the same.