Step 3: Join an effective group.
These sweeping, systemic changes are complicated and will be hard won. No single person alone can make them happen. Luckily, there are already dozens if not hundreds of groups dedicated to climate activism. Some are local and focused on stopping particular fossil-fuel projects, like Rogue Climate in Southern Oregon, with which I am working. Others are national and focused on changing federal policy, like Zero Hour and the Sunrise Movement. Still others, like Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future, are international and focused on putting moral pressure on climate negotiators and governments around the world. Groups like Project Drawdown research the nuts and bolts of decarbonizing the world. Climate change is linked to income inequality and injustice, so if your passion is fighting for racial justice, the rights of the poor, or indigenous rights and sovereignty, that works, too. Or you might volunteer for a climate-focused local or national political candidate.
Step 4: Define your role.
The power of these groups is not simply strength in numbers. They work well because they divide up the work that needs to be done and give each task to those best suited to it. This also makes the fight less daunting. Instead of trying to become an expert in international regulatory law, global supply chains, atmospheric science and the art of protest, you can offer the skills and resources you already have, and trust that other people with complementary skills are doing what they can do, too. If you are a writer, you can write letters to the editor, newsletters and fliers. If you are strong, you can lift boxes. If you are rich, you can donate money. Only you know what and how much you can reasonably do. Take care not to overdo it at first and risk burning out. Set a sustainable level of involvement for yourself and keep it up. As a bonus, working with a group will increase the richness and diversity of your personal relationships, and may well temper your climate anxiety and depression.
Step 5: Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.
Even though keeping global warming under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) would absolutely be better than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) of warming, there is no threshold that means that it is “too late” or that we are “doomed.” The lower, the better. It is always worth fighting.
As we fight, it is important for our mental health and motivation to have an image in mind of our goal: a realistically good future.
Imagine dense but livable cities veined with public transit and leafy parks, infrastructure humming away to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, fake meat that tastes better than the real thing, species recovering and rewilding the world, the rivers silver with fish, the skies musical with flocking birds.
This is a future where the economic inequality, racism and colonialism that made decades of inaction on climate change possible has been acknowledged and is being addressed. It is a time of healing. Many ecosystems have changed, but natural resilience and thoughtful human assistance is preventing most species from going extinct. This is a future in which children don’t need to take to the streets in protest and alarm, because their parents and grandparents took action. Instead, they are climbing trees.
This future is still possible. But it will only come to pass if we shed our shame, stop focusing on ourselves, join together and demand it.
Emma Marris is the author of “Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World.”
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