With the effects of our climate crisis seeping ever more into our lives, the time for climate action has never been more critical. You may be ready to do your part, but how do you get others to join with you? I was reminded of that challenge just the other day.
I’m a board member of a regional sustainability organization and attended our annual board meeting this week. Sitting in a beautiful LEED-certified meeting hall with fellow eco-enthusiasts, I spent the morning sipping on Fair Trade coffee (in a compostable cup, of course) absorbing news of exciting programs to reduce carbon emissions, increase renewable energy, and reduce waste. The bustle of climate action enveloped us and we all left buoyed by the hope of progress in combating climate change.
Reality (at least for me) set in immediately after I left this climate action cocoon when I was confronted with the everyday presence of single-use plastics, gas-guzzling cars, and depressing news about environmental rollbacks. Life just chugged along, with no apparent change.
How, I wondered, do I translate the energy and inspiration from the sustainability event into engagement outside of this “green bubble?” And how can you do the same in your community? It got me thinking about successful (and unsuccessful) environmental initiatives and the lessons I’ve learned from them. I thought I’d share them here.
Understand the Issues
Know your climate facts! This should be a given, but with our busy schedules, it can be tempting to rely on social media or soundbites for our source of information. Possessing a command of the issues is key to helping inform and persuade those who might be skeptics to join you in taking action.
I list a few resources here but in general refer to scientific, fact-based organizations for gathering information.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the go-to organization for climate change data.
- NASA. The Causes of Climate Change page is an excellent summary of the causes and lists numerous scientific societies and groups for further information.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA’s purpose is to monitor our climate and environment. Its climate page has a ton of helpful data, tools, and information.
- Scientific American. I subscribe to their various free newsletters for up-to-date climate and environmental information.
- Environmental and Energy Study Institute. This non-profit’s fact sheets and issue briefs on climate change are substantive and clear. I look forward to their climate change solutions newsletter for news and tips.
- Skeptical Science is a website that gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. A non-profit science education organization, Skeptical Science’s goal is to explain what peer-reviewed science has to say about global warming. I particularly like their page on the most used climate myths, with possible responses.
- Green That Life (of course!) for up-to-date analysis, practical tools, and resources related to a variety of sustainability topics, including waste reduction, pollution prevention, food waste, environmental activism, and more. In addition, check out Green That Life’s Green Terms and Recycling Resources pages, which I periodically update. For literature and resources related to climate change and the environment, see Green That Life’s Best Environmental Books list.
It’s the Vision Thing
What is it that you want to take action on? Reduce single-use plastics in your community? Encourage residents to walk more and drive less? Start a food scrap recycling program in your town? Advocate for climate-friendly legislation? Don’t have a clue but you’re itching to do something?
There are literally hundreds of ways, big and small, you can make a positive impact in combating climate change. For ideas, start with Green That Life’s post on high impact green lifestyle changes and the section on Simple Changes. For an excellent and lengthy list of possible actions, check out Project Drawdown. This book describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming.
Now that you have your goal, it’s time to work on making a plan of action. For a comprehensive guide on how to organize an initiative, see Green That Life’s posts on How to Pass a Plastic Bag Ban and How to Start a Healthy Yard Project. These specific initiatives may not be your cup of tea, but you’ll get detailed descriptions of how to plan and implement a climate action program of your choosing.
Don’t Give in to Fear Tactics
Armed with your climate facts and a plan, it’s time to engage others. How do you do it?
Try to resist giving in to fear tactics. Yes, we’re at a crisis point, but resorting to doomsday scenario rants doesn’t inspire climate action. More often it ends up paralyzing people with fear. A more effective motivational tool is to give people hope that they have the ability to make a difference.
So getting the message right is critical in increasing engagement. And just as you need to know your climate facts, you also need to know your audience. Pop yourself out of your “green” bubble and really listen to those who might have climate doubts. What can you do to change their minds?
I find that in these instances, instead of preaching reams of climate facts, making the issue personal engages more people. For example, when advocating for a plastic bag ban in our traditional town, my reasoning for the legislation was focused more on community beautification. This community-focused message (rather than an environmental one) resonated more with our residents.
Ultimately, it’s about understanding people and connecting with authenticity.
The Power of One … Together
There’s a temptation to give in to eco anxiety and a sense of personal helplessness. What’s the point in doing anything, given these monumental problems?
It’s true that this climate crisis is enormous, but our individual climate action efforts, taken together, make a difference. As I write in a recent post, these thousands of individual actions do have an impact on nudging legislative and corporate action.
So, trust in the power that you have to make a difference, but don’t go it alone. I deliberately added “community” to the title of this climate action post. We’re only successful in combating climate change through collective action. By “community” I mean it in the broadest sense: your family, neighborhood, workplace group, local garden club, school, local town board.
Reach out to all corners of your community to bring people together in achieving your goal. One simple way to bring people or groups together is to celebrate their achievements. When I was drafting Rye’s Sustainability Plan, I contacted local civic organizations, schools, and businesses asking them to write about their sustainability accomplishments. I then highlighted these groups and their achievements in the Sustainability Plan. The Plan, accordingly, became our community’s plan, not just a document produced by one group.
Climate Action Means (Persistent) Action
Never stop. Don’t burn yourself out, but recognize that, just like brushing your teeth, it’s an everyday activity. From small tasks to mobilizing your community, make it part of your life and people will follow.