Is Individual Action to Fight Climate Change a Distraction? Yes!
Updated: May 22
Harry and Bob debate whether individual action to fight climate change is a distraction.
10001ways.com is a website that provides a full spectrum of thousands of ideas to fight climate change and protect the environment with a generational blog to talk about it. Ideas range from putting an environmental sticker on your car bumper and placing a brick in your toilet tank to displace and conserve water, to joining an environmental action group and organizing to reverse the U.S. Paris Climate Accord withdrawal.
But which of these many ideas are deserving of your time and effort? Which are effective in reducing green house gas emissions and making living on our planet more tolerable? Which will promote the avoidance of unmitigated climate disasters in the future?
Yes, we must all do our best individually, but we can only arrive at solutions to climate change collectively. We must seriously re-evaluate our place in the world. Unless we change direction to work more cooperatively, the little things we can do all by ourselves are just a distraction.
While individually reducing our carbon footprints may be moral and virtuous it deflects attention from governments capable of compelling offending industries to change their polluting ways.
Climate Action Must Rise to the Level of Meeting Our Goals
Photo: Saph Photography from Pixels.com
Many would challenge my assertion that individual environmental action is just a distraction. But it is my contention that to achieve big goals such as limiting fossil fuel emissions’ global warming impacts to an increase of less than 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels (as the IPCC- Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report of 2018 suggests) requires large-scale collective action that transcends national and political boundaries way beyond aggregate individual actions.
I would even go further to say it requires social conflict, economic disruption and civil disobedience.
Reflect for a moment on the major social changes in this country over the past century. Women’s suffrage did not come about without conflict and resistance. The eight-hour workday and labor benefits were not achieved without union organizing and large industrial strikes. Civil Rights were not won without sit-ins or Selma. The Vietnam War was not stopped without massive, disrupting social mobilizations. Gay rights were not achieved without the resistance at Stonewall and elsewhere. To achieve climate justice and the prospect of continued life on earth for our species and others requires no less.
The multinational fossil fuel companies, the governments that they prop up and the banks that finance them will not cede their positions of power and influence without a fight.
Conflict and revolution are often associated with armed struggle and violence. But over the
course of the last century nonviolent conflict has become an increasingly prominent source of
institutional change within and beyond our borders for political revolution around the world, from Gandhi’s salt march in India to the post-Soviet “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe to the multinational Middle Eastern Arab Spring.
Consumer Choice Not Appropriate To Meet Our Challenges
Photo: Harry Strharsky
Calling for even greater personal responsibility for problems not solvable by individuals only risks preventing people from embracing the scale of political change we need. We cannot save our way of life or encourage others to save theirs by making consumer choices. Plastic or paper? Animal or plant protein? Lifestyle changes exhibit the luxury and privilege of becoming “first world” distractions. Although personal behavior changes are necessary they are insufficient to meet the immense nature of the climate problems we all face.
I don’t mean to suggest that doing such things, providing and leading an exemplary personal life are meaningless, but individual sacrifice will not bring us to zero emissions. Changing all our light bulbs or personal self-sacrifice itself cannot be the solution to enable fundamental changes that will alleviate the climate crisis.
There is much hope to be gained from knowing that we do not have to wait for each human on earth to become a better person so we don’t destroy our environment and create an unlivable world. But we do need to act together to create a societal consensus demanding our governments make this a top priority.
Just as no amount of personal action can solve the employment and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we need a strong institutional and governmental response to solve the climate crisis. A global pandemic requires the coordinating work of a World Health Organization (WHO). Our national pandemic suffers from an abdication of federal government leadership, strategy and response. 50 uncoordinated states in competition for personal protection equipment descends into chaos. So too, individuals acting responsibly for their own behavior cannot stem the consequences of the few dozen mega-corps and state-owned industries responsible for more than half of global industrial emissions.
Choose Mass Mobilization for Maximum Impact
Humans are a most adaptable species. We are also the only species capable of destroying our own future. As the window of opportunity to act narrows before the point of no return for melting ice caps, rising tides, severe drought, raging wildfires, acidic oceans and increasingly violent storms, I urge that the reader who has reached the limit of responsible individual action take steps to join an organization dedicated to nonviolent direct action, such as the Extinction Rebellion, Fire Drill Fridays, Greenpeace, or the Sunrise Movement.
Extinction Rebellion (www.rebellion.global) is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimize the risk of social collapse.
Fire Drill Fridays (firedrillfridays.com) was founded by Jane Fonda, an octogenarian activist having five decades of experience, inspired by teenager Greta Thunberg, who said, “Our House is on Fire”, and we need to act like it.
Greenpeace (greenpeace.org/usa/), founded almost 50 years ago, is a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.
Sunrise (sunrisemovement.org) is a movement to stop climate change and create millions of jobs in the process. They are building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across America, ending the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics, and elect leaders who stand up for the health and well-being of all people. Youth are our future. They have the most to lose. Follow their leadership.
Photo: Markus Spisie from Pixels.com
Climate activist rallies and marches have shifted from in-person street demonstrations to online ones during the coronavirus pandemic. Join now to make a greater impact and be ready to bust out once you are fully recovered from a bout with COVID-19 or have been vaccinated.
At this late stage in the global climate crisis with less than a decade left before certain disaster at the point of no return, it is time to pivot from personal piety and self-sacrifice in silence and band together to really make some NOISE! Climate urgency requires that we put our bodies on the line and be “all-in.”
No Trump family member or Mitch McConnell-led, climate change denying Republican Senator was mentioned or harmed in the preparation of this blog post.