Turn individual acts into collective action

I wasn’t sure what I would write about to kick off 2022. To be honest, I have struggled lately to find new and exciting topics for you. However, just when I thought I didn’t have anything to write about, I read two different articles/columns from two sources: The New York Times Magazine and The Guardian.

The NYT Magazine piece caught my attention because it is titled “An Evangelical Climate Scientist Wonders What Went Wrong.” It interviews Katharine Hayhoe, the chief scientist for Nature Conservancy, a professor of political science at Texas Tech, and the author of a new book titled “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.” 

My main takeaway from reading this NYT interview with her is when she says “The reality is that more than 70 percent of people in the U.S. are already worried about climate change, and about 35 percent of those are really worried. So the biggest problem is not the people who aren’t on board; the biggest problem is the people who don’t know what to do. And if we don’t know what to do, we do nothing.”

Hayhoe then goes on to say that we can start by doing something – anything – and the thing that matters the most is to talk about it. Talk about it with your neighbors, your friends, your families. She encourages us to activate those around us by taking positive, constructive actions, and use our individual voices to help others choose to do the same. I loved this, because this is the exact mission of my column!

However ... then I read another piece in The Guardian by Rebecca Solnit titled “Big oil coined ‘carbon footprints’ to blame us for their greed. Keep them on the hook.” In it, she reiterates a concept that I have written about before, but only minimally.

My typical columns are about each of us making small changes that add up to a collective impact. This is still true; but in her column she argues that these acts – driven by personal virtue – will never be enough to save the planet. This is also true.

A little less than a year ago in my “donut holder tale” column, I touched on this subject and I mention that the concept of “personal virtue” and each of us “making changes; recycling, eating less meat, figuring out our carbon footprints” came from none other than the oil companies. In 2004, British Petroleum (BP) unveiled its “carbon footprint calculator” so we each can all assess how much damage we as individuals are causing the planet by eating, going to work and traveling.

Well, isn’t that convenient? To flip the problem back on to the consumer? Brilliant. And evil. 

Oil companies are given tax subsidies, and have doubled down plastic production right here in Ohio. (They are turning the Ohio River Valley into the next petrochemical hub in the United States.) It won’t be a surprise to learn that oil companies are also behind recycling campaigns, ensuring the public is still duped into thinking that proper disposal of their plastic products is in fact our problem, and not theirs.

Furthermore, 100 corporations are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions! Even if, worldwide, individuals were able to cease all CO2 emissions completely, our actions will never add up to make an actual difference. 

What does this all mean? It means that individual actions will not be able to increase at a rate to actually affect the problem in a timely manner – and we are in a race against time when it comes to climate change. What can be done? In addition to our individual actions, we need to take collective action seeking changes in policies and laws. 

What can you do? Let your local, state, and national representatives know you are VERY worried about climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and environmental plastic pollution. As a society, we need to hold the powerful corporations who are destroying the earth accountable. This CAN be done, and it’s the only way that we’ll be able to create large, meaningful, and timely change. The earth is on fire, and we can put it out together.

In the spirit of my column, keep making your individual choices that do indeed add up; do not be discouraged … and keep talking to your neighbors, family and friends about what you do. But in 2022, also talk to them about the bigger problem – talk to them about how even though we are each making the best choices we can make for the earth, it will not be enough unless we come together and demand change from the sources of the pollution, and that means changing policies and changing laws.

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Volume 14, Issue 2, Posted 10:14 AM, 01.18.2022