Sunday, July 7, 2013

"The question is not whether we need to act"

This quote by President Obama was sort of my cliff hanger last Sunday. And I think I'm not the only one who feels ready to act, but how? What is the most efficient use of my own personal talents, availability and passions?

You will notice this post is not about bringing your own bags to the supermarket. I believe it is way past the time where individual, small actions will make enough of a difference. (That is not to say you should not bring your own bags to the supermarket.) We're at a point, I think, where awareness is not as much of a problem than figuring out what the next step is. Where do we take our anger, disappointment, fear, grief, and worry about the future? Do we engage in the political process at all, or should we give up hope on that and and start working on alternatives?

Here are some ideas that I'm currently churning in answering that question for myself, maybe something speaks to you. Or maybe they spark your own ideas which you should share in the comments.

Inspire. Some people have the unique ability to stir in others a desire to do something. A lot of bloggers fall into this category! Of course, that 'something' still has to be defined, so take a look at the rest of the list, fellow bloggers!
A small event I hosted at my church: A local foods coffee hour, with food stuffs from local farms, and info materials about CSA programs, youth programs, and info graphics on the impact of our eating habits on the health of the climate.

Raising awareness for the urgency to fight. I'm contradicting myself, am I? Didn't I just say awareness is not the problem? I think there may be a few pieces still missing. People have caught on to the broader picture. But there are very important facets that are underexposed. Because the climate fight has become a partisan issue, it has almost become a taboo to discuss in many everyday situations. The mainstream media don't touch it. As a consequence, many people, while they may think they're informed and understand the problem, are missing the most crucial part. The dire urgency of climate fighting, to prevent the situation from going from bad to worse to deadly. The dire urgency to prepare for the already inevitable fallout. I was one of those people until just 16 months ago. Bill McKibben woke me up, a rude awakening it was. Don't just sit there! Talk! Subscribe to news feeds of environmental organizations and 'share' or tweet away on your favorite social media outlet. Blog. Send those petitions to all your friends. Don't just sit there quietly, you have something important to say.

Organize. This isn't for everyone, but it could be for you. Several activists told me that joining or starting their respective groups was very uplifting to them, and continues to feed their motivation to fight for what they think is right. There are several movements where you could join or start a local chapter. The transition movement,, The Green Party, Climate Parents, and many other large and small organizations (check out the list of groups here), take your pick. Many offer leadership training seminars. This avenue may be hard, on your energy as well as your emotional state, but I believe could be the most effective use of your time. In particular the larger organizations already have visibility and adding momentum to that is probably more efficient than starting another special interest splinter group. It is my opinion that the current situation requires us all to join forces to fight for climate justice, it supersedes (and affects) any other environmental issue at this point in time.

We'll be back. And we'll be serious.
Teach kids. The inclusion of environmental topics in schools, including the cafeterias, is only in its infancy. I see beginnings, embodied for example by two amazing friends who have worked extremely hard to successfully change the way their respective school cafeterias handle waste creation and management. I still feel strongly that the schools and most parents could do a lot more to emphasize awareness for environmental topics, and that a failure to do so has huge consequences. I believe that much of what Germany is accomplishing in the alternative energy field right now to be a direct consequence of my generation's raising with a constant green message in the public schools. I realize this reeks of partisan indoctrination, but if my kids can have drills at school to prepare them for the invasion of an armed assailant, they can handle learning the real story of the state of our environment and what they can do to change it. (Which involves mostly bugging their parents!) Kids are higher moral beings, they're born do-gooders. They're easily influenced while young. They also influence their parents! In fact many people come to greener pastures via trying to feed their children better, and hoping to leave the world a better place for them. And then those kids grow up and do stuff. Hopefully worthwhile stuff.

Show up. Maybe you don't feel creative. You're not outgoing enough to start mobilizing or inspiring people. Maybe you feel like you don't know anyone who shares your worldview. But showing up is something almost anyone can do. Sign up for newsfeeds of some of the above mentioned and/or local environmental organizations, and stay tuned for events coming up near you. Show up, and add your body to a rally or vigil near you. Show up to a meeting of your town's recycling commission. Show up to hear an inspiring lecture by a famous (or infamous) environmental fighter. Show up to your local, state and federal elections (for Pete's sake!). Show up to the local farmer's market. You'll realize it's a likely place to meet like-minded people, and maybe feel some momentum to carry forward.

Our little family made up half the shift at this vigil. Imagine the impact a few hundred people could have!
One of the hardest things to do while choosing your battles (literally) is to pick something that will be uplifting to YOU. You will burn out otherwise. Equally important is to pick something that uses your energy efficiently. Think of those charity ratings that tell you what percentage of any donation goes to the actual cause vs. administrative costs and the like. Sadly, no such rating exists for activism in the climate fight.
I'm thinking about questions like the following: Should I try to grow a local environmental team, is that going to accomplish more than joining an already energized and active group that works state-wide or even nation-wide? Is collecting bottle caps to donate (or similar small-scale efforts) really more effective than spending the same time and energy on planning a group trip to a rally that will have a lot of visibility?

I worry that we sometimes give ourselves the warm and fuzzies for very incremental efforts, just because it feels good to finally be with a group of people that have the same goals and values, and perhaps have a tangible result (a pile of sorted trash, or a shiny new 'no idling' sign....). I suspect, however, that the more important work is the frustrating, bigger-picture stuff that doesn't leave us feeling accomplished at all. I hope I don't sound like I'm trashing honest people's honest efforts. I don't think any effort is wasted, and I feel happy to come across anyone who works to bring about change. I'm just wondering how the relatively small lot of us can, collectively, have the largest impact. Maybe I'm overanalyzing. I definitely don't want to get bogged down thinking too much and end up doing nothing much at all. I also don't want to claim to have the answers, or even any answers, they're very personal. Everyone will have to find their own personal sweet spot, depending on their own values, visions for oneself and the future. I'm working on mine (putting a brand-new book on my reading list .... The Power of Just Doing Stuff), and you'll hopefully read all about it.

Meanwhile, I'll repeat one more time: "The question is not whether we need to act" (Barack Obama, 2013)

Small Footprint Fridays - A sustainable living link-up


  1. Great post. I too am coming to the realization that my individual actions - while not meaningless - are nowhere near enough. Good ideas here for moving beyond personal action.

    1. Thanks for visiting, commenting and tweeting about it! A friend found this post through you - full circle :-)

  2. Thanks for the inspiration! The planet so needs the message on behalf of her health to go out (and there are so many who have not yet heard it).

    In this pickle, we can all use our votes to push our governments to do the right thing by the planet, but we should probably not wait for them to act. As a Russian saying goes, "When you find yourself in a life raft, pray to God, but keep rowing hard toward the coast."