Monday, December 17, 2007

Everyday People

In the course of sharing my reactions to the latest snapshot of the Arctic I've been having some interesting conversations. In one a friend and fellow Vermonter asked: 'help me learn how to convey what everyday people ... and their local governments .. can do [in response to climate change.]

I took her question with me out into the fading afternoon light while I shoveled snow and did chores.

What can ordinary citizens do, both to lessen the extent of climate change and to prepare their communities to withstand the climate change that is already inevitable?

Shovelful by shovelful I came up with quite a list.

1. Don't leave the thinking about how to respond to climate change to the 'experts.' Ordinary people have all the authority they need on this issue simply by virtue of common sense and a stake in the future. Ordinary people are technically qualified to say that it makes no sense to produce more pollution than the Earth can absorb and that exponential growth cannot continue on a finite planet. Ordinary people are morally qualified to say that we shouldn't expect others in distant lands or future generations to bear the consequences of our actions. Ordinary people have the authority to raise questions about the viability of ideas like sun shields in the upper atmosphere or iron fertilization of the oceans.

If you must, find some resources that explain climate science in clear non-technical terms (you might try the Our Climate Ourselves resources page or this climate change simulator), but above all trust yourself. We need the logic ordinary people on the climate change question. We need the logic of grandfathers and teen-agers and home-makers and farmers and workers, the logic of stewardship and the instinct to care for future generations.

2. Trust and speak out of your own authority, but find ways to do so in the company of others. This is a collective problem that began before our births and will not be fully solved until well after our deaths. It is a problem that cuts across all the lines that divide us, a problem for anyone who eats, drinks, loves a child, cares about a community, or a river, or a tree on a city street corner. All sorts of inspiring organizations are emerging to facilitate collective action. Find the one that suits you (or start your own at whatever scale is right for you) and find solace in the way that the tiny drop of your one lifetime joins into the rising ocean of people who are ready for this problem to end. (A few vehicles for collective action on climate change in the US that I am aware of include: Step It Up, 1Sky, and Focus the Nation.)

3. Don't let a new coal plant be built in your community. See this graph if you wonder why. While supplies of oil are declining around the world, reserves of coal are massive. Because the odds of avoiding dangerous climate change if we allow electricity-generating coal plants to transfer the carbon in the coal from below the Earth's crust to the atmosphere are very low one of the most powerful places a citizen can act is at hearings in their region about any plans to build new coal plants.

4. Be creative about what is possible in your own community. Look especially for the opportunities that simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, build community, and buffer your community against instabilities of all sorts that could be triggered in a warming world. Organize your community to insulate the homes of anyone in your community who can't afford or isn't able to do so for themselves. This would decrease carbon emissions from wasted fuel consumption, bring your community together (with everything from pot-lucks and tool sharing to friendships built on the tops of roofs and ladders), and help create the kind of social network that will serve your community in the face of any of the likely threats of climate change, from droughts, to dangerous storms, to heat waves and public health crises. From community to community the opportunities will be different, but I'm willing to bet that all communities will have opportunities to cut carbon emissions while becoming healthier, safer, and more resilient.

I shoveled a long path, and so my list goes on, but I'll stop here for now, with more to come another day.


Drew said...

Well said, Beth.

Keep the wisdom coming. I appreciate it.


Jeanne said...

Thank you, Beth ... for taking the time to think so deeply about my question, for the thoughtful suggestions, and for the work you are doing. I'll spend more time with the resources you mentioned - looking for ways to help others to begin THINKING IN SYSTEMS! While trying to work at the local level of government, that is THE fundamental obstacle. We're all volunteers contributing what we can to help preserve what makes our community a good place to live. To many, that means affordable housing and economic development. To others, it means preserving the scenic beauty and cultural heritage associated with a working and natural landscape. To some, it means working to protect natural communities and the systems that support them. What we have in common is hard work and good intentions. But, from my perspective at least, we don't have a common vision based on current reality. So, my question becomes, what tools are available to help shift mindsets from mechanical and compartmentalized to a systems view of the natural world and our role in it? Without that shared understanding of reality and a common vision of what ought to be, there is no foundation to build meaningful conversation, let alone make meaningful changes in our behavior. Again, I'll spend more time with the resources you've mentioned. And, again, thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt response to my question.