Friday, May 18, 2007

What Can You Do, Where You Already Are, With What You Already Know?

(This post continues the series of questions that I've found useful once the science of climate change begins to sink in. Click here for Questions #1 and #2.)

As the reality of the need for massive and immediate cuts in carbon emissions sinks in, for some people only one thing seems to feel right: starting tomorrow, they must change everything about their lives, and devote everything they have to this survival crisis.

But pretty quickly, other realities come back to mind. Mortgages, debts, college tuitions, health insurance. Nothing is as simple as it first sounds, and the next stop in this thought progression seems often to be: if I can't devote all of myself to this crisis then there is nothing for me to do. It is hard to look at addressing the potential extinction of one's species as a part-time avocation.

Many other people have great ideas for tackling climate change, if only they were president of a massive environmental group, or a car manufacturer, or a Senator. Too bad they are 'only' a student, a mother, a preschool teacher, an editor.

That's why another question I often ask groups who are working out their response to climate change is:

What Can You Do, With What You Already Know and the Relationships You Already Have?

We don’t know how to live as a planet of over six billion people. We don’t know how to cut our carbon dioxide emissions by more than half while providing a better life for all the people, all the children, who don’t have a sufficient food, shelter, and security today. We don’t know (or remember) how to share like that. We don’t have all of the technology that we will need. We don’t know (or remember) how to live happy purposeful, satisfied lives while being frugal with our use of energy and materials.

Not knowing how to do this, we must learn. And it won't be good enough if that learning is just embarked upon by people who get paid for it, or people who can afford to quit their jobs. And it won't be good enough for the only learners to be the "leaders" at the "top."

Who's going to figure out how to expand the local food network in your city? Who's going to get the bike paths built and the train routes re-established? Who's going to write the new songs that make meaning and purpose and some kind of beauty out of the terror and change that we are living through? Who's going to talk to children about it, and who's going to insulate the water pipes for your frail, elderly neighbor?

There is a paradox here: this massive global problem is the result of small decisions by ordinary people, and it's eventual, miraculous solution, if it comes, will likewise be the result of small decisions, made with courage, by you and me, ordinary people alive in an extraordinary time.

So ask each other, push each other, admit that we can't, most of us, drop everything, that we aren't, most of us, leaders of national stature, and start from there. What needs doing that we know (or can learn) how to do?

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