This isn’t a new story about the reasons you should feel uncomfortable over the carbon footprint you leave. The concept that you are “doing your part” for climate change has been equated with making changes to your personal habits including your food choices, travel habits, and lifestyle. It’s not enough to be focused on your home’s footprint, as it’s not addressing how whole industries and economies benefit from fossil fuels. It’s also a stance that’s been repeatedly debunked by scientists and academics. It is the United Nations’ climate science body The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has described individual action in the form of individual action as ” insufficient,” in the absence of “embedded in structural and cultural change.”
This isn’t an excuse to say that people aren’t important to the climate crisis. The blame for the problem is entirely on the fossil fuel corporations that cause us to be in this mess and then wringing our hands isn’t a good idea to do in a time when the stakes are high. If you’re not a Fortune 500 executive or have an affinity for flying in private jets or owning huge yachts the most powerful ability to make a difference is probably not going to be as the consumer. It’s as a worker, citizen, or citizen of your community.
It is now more crucial than ever before because the world must act swiftly to prevent the worst effects of climate change. We are fast getting closer to the extreme global temperature that
countries have committed to avoiding. Each degree above that level will cause havoc on the existence of millions and may even disrupt governments and economies and profoundly alter the way we access water as well as ecosystems in the way we think of these days.
The thought of taking action to effectuate change may seem daunting. The abstract circle of inertia that we’re trapped in is also composed of people with the ability to shake up the system. To comprehend our power, we need to take a closer to think at our place within the global community. The most important thing is to think about the power of our collective — just as a climate spokesman to be able to change the world.
Step 1: Consider how your talents and interests could contribute to the fight against climate change.
The process of breaking out of a consumer-centric attitude towards climate action requires some effort. It could be a matter of thinking about your identity and your job or network, as well as your rights, and more abstractly, determining the types of actions that result in a change in policies. This will allow you to determine the right community to connect with. That’s why you can always improve your performance by not doing it all on your own.
There’s a wide and varied array of organizations working towards the common goal of dealing with climate change. Many of them operate under the umbrella of the rights of workers as well as racial justice as well as gender-based activism. They all have their own ways to get there.
Each activist I spoke to agreed that climate activism is distinct for everyone. Pete Sikora, the climate and inequality director for an advocacy organization called New York Communities for Change suggests taking a look locally and seeking the power of the grassroots. “What we think really works is a hard-hitting multiracial campaign holding a specific decision-maker accountable,” Sikora says.
To determine the best group to work with, experts recommend thinking about a list of questions to determine the core of an organization’s strategy for changes in the political landscape.
- Is the group a volunteer-powered organization or is it a company-owned?
- Is it a major national organization with funds that is hundreds of millions of dollars? Or is it a small, poor?
- Are you a local-focused organization with concrete goals such as stopping the construction of a pipeline or trying to empower a community? Is there a large institution you’re pushing to change, such as calling on a large bank to stop using fossil fuels?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, as it’s about being yourself in any manner you want to.
It’s also essential to take into consideration the amount of time you’re willing to put in and the amount of risk you’re willing to take. For those who are short on time such as yourself Climate Changemakers, an organization Changemakers offers a variety of activities. Changemakers offer actions that last between two minutes to an hour, such as contacting your representative.
Margaret Salamon’s Climate Emergency Fund assists in the development of new climate campaigns, which promise more bold methods like blockades and striking. She outlines a skill that is often overlooked when aiding those working on climate change: raising funds for activists who require funding for their ambitious projects.
The act of activism doesn’t necessarily involve striking or taking other actions that are more energizing. Elizabeth Yeampierre, director of the Uprose, which is a climate justice group Uprose located within New York, points to volunteers who cooked meals in support of the protest or even organized learning circles to inform their fellow members on issues related to gender equality in the movement for climate justice. She says that many climate organizations are often secluded in the way they approach creating community power, but the climate justice organizations have a focus that is “really more centered on the community itself.”
“People show up in a lot of ways,” Yeampierre states. “They attend to support direct action. They appear to give evidence in hearings. They appear to write letters, make phone calls, and do the same thing. They appear on social media sites, but they also appear with suggestions of things to accomplish.”
Step 2: Determine your goal
Climate change is usually described as an existential crisis and the collapse of capitalism — concepts from the academic world which are difficult to relate to the real world. To help make the abstract concrete activists make use of power maps, an X-Y axis graph that is widely used in all sorts of grassroots campaigns. The idea is to identify the best way to attain a clear and precise end-point and to come up with a feasible route to reach it.
Look at what a small group of Amazon employees did in the year 2019 when 900 Amazon employees signed the petition and then walked out from work over three demands which included that Amazon stops giving money to political parties and organizations that oppose climate science, not allow oil companies to utilize Amazon’s cloud computing solutions to extract oil and also accelerate its goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. As with many other initiatives, this one produced mixed outcomes. However, the Amazon company continues to be under increasing pressure on its environmental impact. In 2021, the company also removed two members of the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and then reached an agreement with the two leaders.
If you’re contemplating that final target, you’ve already discovered an alliance partner as the Amazon employees had (see Step 1!) to help you think backward to determine what you need to do to succeed. The first step is figuring out who within the business or the city or organization that you’re aiming at is the final individual who is the ultimate decision-maker of your proposal. It could be the CEO or the board of directors. It could represent an elected person or appointed regulator.
The person or group that is the subject of your campaign will be on your map of power. They’ll be high on the Y-axis which shows people according to their influence level or the power. The
X-axis indicates the degree of the alliance. After that, you complete the other points on the graph, such as the people whom they listen to, the places where you could get the upper hand (like using pressure on shareholders, shareholders, voters, or customers), and also your personal networks. If you’re new to activism, it’s helpful to try the idea of writing an outline of the chart.
Power mapping is used by activists during battles across the country to determine the process of making decisions and the sources of resources and money, as well as locations where there are areas for intervention. It breaks down insurmountable-seeming goals into manageable steps by pinpointing the people, with names and job titles, who are in positions of power.
Thinking about power in terms of power was the reason climate activists from New York City fought to stop gasoline from the new construction. They wanted to replicate the results that dozens of cities across California have had by banning gas connections for new construction. A group of climate and racial justice groups, such as New York Communities for Change (NYCC), New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Food and Water Watch and WE ACT For Environmental Justice, came together to dissect the lofty goals into tangible targets and to identify who they’d have to influence to make the policy.
In their power maps The power map revealed that drawing “elected officials” or even “city council” on the chart was not enough. They narrowed it down to specific roles and discovered the person who was needed was the speaker of the council. The speaker controls the legislation that goes to an election. They had an identity: Corey Johnson.
To draw attention to their cause amid different agendas, the activists needed some leverage. They sought out allies, such as Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel who is a Central Brooklyn Democrat who helped them lobby Johnson. They also began making small photo ops and rallies that targeted Johnson and even had hundreds of people call their council members, telling them to contact Johnson.
NYCC’s Sikora provided a comprehensive account of how these strategies were put together through an all-racial coalition which was able to pass the bill within 10 months and make New York City the biggest city in the United States to move new buildings away from gasoline, which affects more than 2,000 new constructions every year.
Here’s the way that the campaign appeared after it was drawn out as an exercise that’s more of an art form than a science. Vox modified Sikora’s account of the campaign to create an energy map.
The activists have replicated and modified methods for local conflicts across the country, and are urging pension institutions and other universities to abandon fossil fuels and slowing major petrochemical developments in the Gulf of Mexico, and stopping the gas terminals for export within the Pacific Northwest using a similar strategy.
“If you become an activist and become part of this world, you’ll end up encountering this practice or trained to think like this,” Sikora says. But he also cautioned that it’s crucial not to become too
involved in the theory of activism as “it’s the doing and winning campaigns that teaches you the set of techniques.”
Step 3: Turn the climate change discussion off the table.
What the majority of activist advice boils to is participating at every opportunity possible, while using powerful tools in the process. This includes extending online communities to live meetups or rallies and demonstrations and bringing activism into an area that is considered taboo such as the workplace.
Jamie Alexander of the climate-solutions-oriented nonprofit Project Drawdown works to help push climate goals inside people’s offices. “Everyone has felt that climate change is not something that you bring into the workplaces,” she declares. “It’s emotional, it’s
anxiety-provoking, it’s political. It’s checked at the entrance when you arrive at work. This isn’t serving anyone.”
She has witnessed people in all fields of work adopt an awareness of the climate to bring about changes at work or within their area of expertise. Through “zooming out and seeing your discipline or job function more broadly,” she says that you can think about how it could be put to work in the face of the crises. “How can this job function be leveraged in service of the climate?”
The process begins with the search for allies. For large corporations, Alexander says, there could already exist an employee resource group that is focused on the environment or even Slack channels dedicated to the issue of climate change. If neither of these exists, think about creating one on your own. The idea of the power of your position and how you can leverage it can be a useful tool when you meet like-minded colleagues. Determine who within the company is in charge of key decisions, who is speaking to the ears of those individuals, and what kind of messages they hear.
It might not seem immediately apparent what you could do from your home however there are many real-world examples of people who think creatively about the ways that their work is interconnected with the environment. It is the case that tech professionals, cafeteria workers, and marketing professionals all working to do their part, encouraging their fields or businesses to take on clean energy goals and reduce food waste, as well as altering their messages about fossil fuels.
In this extremely unstable world, being present in more ways than through your wallet can build confidence in your ability to effect change. Experts in organizational behavior Thomas Bateman and climate scientist Michael Mann have written about the importance of believing in your abilities self-efficacy or self-confidence, which could increase your chances of being “more likely to persevere, rebound from setbacks, and perform at high levels.” That is taking action helps people avoid burning out, nihilism, and despair about being powerless to stop climate change.
Equally important is that the power of grassroots creates the strength of the entire community. There’s an incredible amount of optimism in the actions of grassroots activists according to
Uprose’s Yeampierre declares. “We must let people believe that there’s a chance for solutions which can be transformative. It’s crucial not to be focused on the problem and the issue however, it is important to reflect on the things we’ve accomplished in spite of all the obstacles.”