The recent Supreme Court ruling removing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants is a huge blow to anyone who cares about the climate crisis—which should be all of us who are alive now, or who care about people who will be living in the future. While it is great to care, how does caring translate into anything meaningful? What can we do if we ourselves are not legislators?
Well, I’ll get to that, but first, I want to talk about some examples I’ve seen of what NOT to do. Look, if you want to make the world a better place, sometimes you have to be a bit of a jackass. Protests can be effective and important. That said, if you are going to be a jackass, you’d better be smart and strategic, or you will do more harm than good. Nothing is accomplished by harming allies and accomplices or creating chaos. For example, the climate activists who stopped traffic, forcing people to idle in cars and creating more toxic emissions (and disproportionately harming working class people). They literally did more of the thing they were supposedly protesting.
Full disclosure, I’m passionate about climate activism. I’ve spent years working for organizations that work to combat the climate crisis and I’ve been fortunate enough to have researched and talked with the world’s leading environmental scientists and authorities on the subject. (That said, this essay is entirely my own opinion and I do not speak for any organization or person except for myself.)
I need you to know that so you understand when I’m annoyed about climate activists gluing their hands to paintings. I’m annoyed with an understanding and compassion for where their hearts are. (Although I do also think some are just in it for getting attention and cool social media photos—I’m a cynical millennial.) Truly, the climate crisis is important. So is starting a dialogue and forcing world leaders to act. I appreciate the passion.
My problem is when these acts get us talking about the wrong things. I do not in my heart think anyone looks at a hand glued to The Last Supper and thinks, “Oh yes, what can I do to reduce my carbon footprint? Is the body of Christ vegan?”
No, what they think is “Climate activists are assholes who destroy public property.” Also: why attack the arts? If ever there were a group of people more inclined to be activists and to align with activism, it is artists and art preservationists.
The other big issue I have with things like “bringing awareness to a climate summit that is already happening” (which was the “point” of the DC traffic shut down) is that I personally don’t think lack of awareness is our biggest issue. I believe most people at this point understand climate change is real. (Yes, there are always those who refuse to believe facts or data, but nothing I say will help that, anyway.) The arguments mostly come down to what needs to be done about it. People need help understanding what we can do as individuals beyond what we’ve learned about recycling in school.
So, if you really are passionate—or even just moderately interested in helping to fight the climate crisis—here are a few simple things you can do that are all better than gluing your hands to a painting:
The thing most people think about when it comes to combating climate change is reducing your personal carbon footprint. This can be done through recycling, biking, walking, turning off lights, composting (if you live in California, all your food waste should go into your green bins), thrifting instead of buying new, etc. And especially: reduce the amount of meat you consume. I’m not saying you have to jump right into an extreme vegan lifestyle, but going vegan could cut your personal carbon footprint by 73%, and by two thirds if your meals are 60% vegan. so start by doing a little meatless Monday and experiment with some new recipes. It’s good for your health, too.
Reducing our personal footprint probably makes us feel the best and it keeps our awareness and mindfulness about the climate high, however, the biggest way to move the needle comes from large-scale change on a corporate and government level. This is why the Supreme Court’s ruling to gut the EPA is so devastating. All the personal sacrifice you do just can’t add up to wide-scale changes made by businesses and communities. And that is why, the most powerful tool you have in your arsenal is your voice. This is pretty obvious, but vote for candidates who support large-scale environmental reform and talk to your friends and family about why that is an important issue for the future of our nation.
It doesn’t stop with your vote. Remember how I said annoying can be good? Contact your representatives. Put the pressure on. The guards at the museum cannot change climate policy, but your senator can co-sign bills. Citizens Climate Lobby will find your rep and even help you generate a note. It could not be easier. Just click this link and most of the work is done.
And finally, businesses and corporations have a huge environmental impact. Making changes for your own business can have an even greater reach than the changes you make in your personal life. Even more powerful is to put pressure on the businesses you frequent to implement environmentally-friendly policies. A friend of mine got her bank to switch to greener practices because she educated herself and then came armed with changes they could make. You can do this, too. Here is a list of ten simple ways to start helping your business (or urging those you patronize) to go green.
Good businesses care about making changes that their clients want to see to ensure they keep their business. Also, more long-term resources and higher quality of life mean better business for us all.
So if you care: speak up. Get annoying in the right ways. If you do so, and get the attention of the people with the power to make impactful decisions, then it’s an effort well spent.