How can we fight climate change?
August 2, 2018 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Getting individual people to accept blame for the fucked-upedness of global capitalism is a manipulative tactic used by the gigantic corporations who are actually responsible for this stuff. If you are trapped in an inescapable system, don't get mad at yourself for failing to escape it. Blame the people who made it inescapable. showbiz_liz made that wise comment earlier in the year in response to a different AskMe. But is it truly inescapable?

During this incredibly hot, drought-ridden, and fire-plagued Northern Hemisphere summer of 2018 there are crop failures and food shortages on the horizon. We are not at Thunder Dome levels of crisis (here in Sweden) yet but things are bad. They will get much worse all over unless governments, captains of industry, NGOs, religious leaders, scientists, kazoo bands, like fucking everyone agrees to stop polluting, stop with the fossil fuel stuff already, stop, stop, stop.

I read the political mega threads and see people pulling together to influence elected officials and to get out the vote in the midterms to throw Republicans and, eventually, Trump out of office for the greater good of the US. I see various groups in Europe working to fight the rise of the white nationalists political groups here. But I don't see the same (although it may exist) push to stop climate change. To me, it is the number 1 issue after Nazis because Nazis are killing people faster. But both things are deadly.

My 3-year-old and 1-year-old grandchildren are in for hellish adulthoods if we don't get the planet back on track. I apologize if I am being stupid and/or naive. But clearly simply sorting my recyclables is not enough. How can individuals effectively push governments and corporations to do the right thing when there is so much money to be made continuing business as usual? What can I do to make a difference? How can a non-wealthy, non-super-powered individual influence the future of our planet?
posted by Bella Donna to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Probably the most effective thing an individual can do is go vegan. A recent study showed that animal foods are responsible for 84% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions in the US. The United Nations issued a report called "Livestock's Long Shadow" that showed that animal agriculture contributes more to climate change than all forms of transportation combined. If you have access to Netflix, watch the documentary Cowspiracy. And be aware that a lot of people stand to lose a lot of money if the connection between animal agriculture and climate change is fully understood.

If becoming a vegan seems too daunting - and I totally get that it can - cutting back on animal products will help. It takes 12 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef. Eating animals is incredibly inefficient.

Corporations won't respond to the news of impending climate disaster, but they will respond to consumer demand. As more people cut back on animal products, there will be less animal agriculture. And that will be good for everyone.
posted by FencingGal at 1:16 PM on August 2, 2018 [11 favorites]


Support anyone who is working to coordinate the efforts of consumers to guide companies to make better choices. Maybe, too, tell me who that is - I don't have a list.

Also, support the kind of socially responsible investing that affects the choices of corporate boards.

Talk about doing both of these things, a _lot_. Real change should come from many individuals acting together, and they can't do that if they don't _know_ the same things.
posted by amtho at 1:28 PM on August 2, 2018


Focusing on purchasing only locally grown and produced food is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint and support your local farming communities.
posted by ananci at 1:30 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


I read the political mega threads and see people pulling together to influence elected officials and to get out the vote in the midterms to throw Republicans and, eventually, Trump out of office for the greater good of the US. I see various groups in Europe working to fight the rise of the white nationalists political groups here. But I don't see the same (although it may exist) push to stop climate change. To me, it is the number 1 issue after Nazis because Nazis are killing people faster. But both things are deadly.

Stopping nazis/Trumpism (and more broadly, worldwide resurgent ethnonationalism and its governments) is not fully separable at this point from mitigating the damage from climate change. Extreme-right movement is in fact in part a response to ongoing climate change and the subconscious knowledge of the much worse coming effects. There's a reason why "there isn't room for them/ there isn't enough to go around for them" is shared in both a fascist world and one expecting billions of refugees. Circumstances that (if not radically changed) will eventually necessitate massive walls, thousand-mile mine fields and fleets of lethal border drones to protect the last scraps of resources and arable land will also produce people adapted to see genocide as a good thing.

Electorally, for the time being, voting out the neofascist order is Job 1 since they will murder us before letting us die from climate change. Job 2, if we get that far, is overturning the underlying capitalist order or, more realistically, voting in a direction away from extreme capitalism. Placing profit above human dignity and life itself doesn't want to go out of its way to murder you like fascism will, but it's what set us on our course in the Anthropocene.
posted by Rust Moranis at 1:38 PM on August 2, 2018 [10 favorites]


It's frustrating but not surprising to see people already focusing on individual consumer behavior, when your question is explicitly about pushing governments and corporations!

Anyway, what I would say is to look for the campaigns in your country/community to do just that, and join those campaigns - as a volunteer or donor or both. One person doesn't have a lot of power (unless that person is Jeff Bezos) but together, people actually can make a difference. I used to work for a group that ran a lot of campaigns to get big corporations to be more sustainable, and you'd actually be surprised how relatively little it takes to get them to change when there's a concerted, focused consumer campaign.
posted by lunasol at 1:38 PM on August 2, 2018 [26 favorites]


The horrifying part of climate change is that it's something that we're all contributing to a greater or lesser extent while there is nothing any of us can individually do to stop it.

Talking to others about it, volunteering, teaching, making art about it might help, but it very well might not. Those are the ways I've decided to go.

In order to hedge my bets, I've also undertaken a long and unpleasant process of attempting to think of the world differently. It looks a lot like grieving, but even if things go better than anybody expects, from today onwards we'll all have plenty of losses to grieve.

Roy Scranton's 'Learning to Die in the Anthropocene' is a good book to start with.
posted by rhooke at 1:40 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Focusing on purchasing only locally grown and produced food is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint and support your local farming communities.

Purchasing locally grown food does support your local farming communities, but it doesn't necessarily reduce your carbon footprint for lots of reasons. One is that having a whole lot of people driving to take their wares to the farmers' market can use up more fossil fuels than having one company drive a long distance possibly using more efficient transportation. Another reason is related to your climate. If you live in a cold climate, greenhouses and heated barns can use up more fuel than having food sent from a warmer climate. It feels good to buy local, but it's incredibly complicated how it relates to fossil fuels. This UK study showed that if the UK became self-sufficient, it would actually increase its greenhouse gas emissions. This Worldwatch Institute article goes into more detail. Among other things they point out is that "you could eat potatoes trucked in from 100 miles away, or potatoes shipped by rail from 1,000 miles away, and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their transport from farm to table would be roughly the same." This is because travel by rail is more energy efficient than travel by truck. Whether locally grown food is environmentally better is really something you can only know on a case-by-case basis.
posted by FencingGal at 1:46 PM on August 2, 2018 [11 favorites]


. It takes 12 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef. Eating animals is incredibly inefficient.

Or, you know, eat grass-fed beef. If you live in a country like America where pasturing and silage is not the feeding norm, then you may need to decrease your consumption of beef to make that cost approachable but that's no bad thing.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:16 PM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


There are a lot of lessons learned in this incredible piece of reporting in the New York Times Magazine published yesterday that goes over the history of climate change activism. Yes, it is incredible depressing, but we're not going to get anywhere without learning from past mistakes.
posted by General Malaise at 2:29 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Less people. Support charities and politicians that support sex education, access to birth control and women's right to choose, particularly in developing countries particularly right now. Support micro loans and education for girls, anything that leads to lower birth rates. Oppose religion. Strongly oppose religion in government. Stabilizing population and transitioning from a growth model to a sustainability model is our only chance long term.

I predict we will have some 12 Monkeys guerilla viral warfare here in the next 30 years. And the people doing it will genuinely believe they are saving the earth and humanity. Interesting times, indeed.
posted by fshgrl at 3:13 PM on August 2, 2018 [9 favorites]


Thank you for asking this. There is a LOT happening right now, even in corporations, that is moving in the right direction, from companies committing to 100% renewable electricity to making plans to cut emissions in line with the Paris agreement. Sweden plans to be carbon neutral by 2045, which is admirable, if perhaps slower than would be ideal for the climate. I think it's important to be vocal about how much you want climate action--tell the companies you support and your elected representatives. You're right, this still doesn't have the social urgency it deserves. Tell your politicians you want to know how they're implementing the plan to cut emissions and how they plan to become resilient. How is your city planning for future heat waves, etc? To the extent you can, get involved at your local level in helping your community shift away from fossil fuels more quickly (e.g., advocate for more bike lanes, or whatever makes sense in your area). And small things do matter--if enough people eat less meat, that would have a significant impact. This isn't either/or. Personal choices matter along with pushing for systemic change.
posted by pinochiette at 3:17 PM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it's inescapable. It's already happening, we're already committed to a couple hundred years of worsening conditions even in the best case scenario where the whole global civilization drops everything and starts fighting it as hard as it can, and the scenario we're actually pursuing is really a worst case, "business as usual" one. Sorry.

Source: I used to be in a pHD program for conservation biology focusing on climate change resilience, but dropped out in large part because I found it too depressing.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:38 PM on August 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


But hey, if you want to do what you can, the biggest things you can do are to lobby your government to pursue and adopt policies that will reduce fossil fuel consumption and combat climate change, and donate as much money as you can to organizations that do the same. Write those letters, make those phone calls, and send in those donations. To the extent that this is a solveable problem (and we can still make a big difference, depending on what we do right now, even if we're past the point where actually "good" outcomes are possible) it's a problem that needs to be solved through policy.

On a personal level, you can drive an electric car; convert your home heating over to electric heat pumps; put solar panels on your house, buy into a community solar project, or subscribe to a renewable utility source; stop eating meat; reduce your consumption of consumer goods, especially plastics, as much as possible; and recycle diligently. Those efforts will take a big bite out of your personal carbon footprint.

You could also consider going to work for a company whose work helps reduce carbon emissions, such as a solar company or an organic community farm, or an NGO that does climate justice work. It's hard to be carbon negative unless your actual livelihood contributes to carbon emission reduction.

Source: I now work for a company that helps people transition off of fossil fuels by installing heat pumps, EV chargers, solar panels, and other such products in their homes. It feels much better than the work I mentioned above.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:26 PM on August 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oh and hey since it sounds like you're a writer, keep in mind that the kinds of companies I mention above need all the kinds of workers that any other business would need. A solar company doesn't just need electricians and roofers, it also needs salespeople, outreach managers, webmasters, HR people, managers, lawyers, etc. etc. Same for a farm or an NGO or whatever. You don't have to be up on a roof slinging panels to have a job that fights climate change.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:58 PM on August 2, 2018


Here's one set of answers.

I found the book to be an inspiring read. Advocate for just a few of these policies locally, regionally, nationally, and / or internationally and you'll be doing good. Even a small or local success story will serve as an exciting proof of concept to the rest of the world.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:18 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you don't vote, vote.

If you eat meat, eat less.

If you drive, drive less.

If you use electricity, use less.

If you buy things, buy locally, and bring your own bags.

If you see litter, pick it up.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:31 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


There is a global climate action day on September 8. That is a good act in itself of course, but 350.org, which runs it, is a fantastic way to find out about local climate concerted action. Sweden appears to have a very active movement with dramatic successes but every country’s INDC under the Paris agreement is too low, as Anticipation says.

Make your city, country divest from fossil fuels (sooner). Invest in carbon capture and storage tech, that’s one of the biggest funding gaps. Advocate for electric car subsidies and proselytize about the tech. Advocate for a compassionate and active response to refugees— even the best case models involve a lot of them.

Know that the game is not over and that people frequently report worst case scenarios as actual case scenarios.
posted by peppercorn at 6:44 PM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


The game is getting pretty close to over without major civil unrest/ further ecological devastation due to wars and mass displacement etc. It is for sure crunch time right now. We need some real leadership on this and immediately.
posted by fshgrl at 7:14 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I run a little local climate change action group. We got involved with state regulatory boards to get them to build the social cost of carbon into their adjudication with utilities. It was all pretty dry stuff and meant going to rate-case hearings and such. But it has already had some positive early results. It’s a long-term project.

I wince when people say “drive less, use less energy, blah blah.” Our infrastructure has to transform itself. Little individual acts do just about nothing. I mean, do them anyway, but they are nothing compared to the change that needs to happen. So I focus on the leverage points in policy. We need massively scaled renewable energy. What is preventing that? Work on that.

That said, the prognosis is very, very grim. It’s probably time to prepare for a bad future. Don’t have children.
posted by argybarg at 10:36 PM on August 2, 2018 [11 favorites]


Little individual acts do just about nothing.

They help raise a generation which sees the way we used to live as an unthinkable abomination.
posted by hat_eater at 3:04 AM on August 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


It's frustrating but not surprising to see people already focusing on individual consumer behavior, when your question is explicitly about pushing governments and corporations! \

I took the OP's "What can I do?" in a broader sense, partly because of the reference to personal recycling. Part of the problem is this fantasy that we can somehow get corporations and governments to "do something" and then we can go on our merry way, with those of us in high-income countries continuing our consumption habits, maybe eating grass-fed beef (which is no better than factory farm beef for the environment and maybe worse) and putting our plastic in the recycling bins. Getting industry and government to change for the good of the environment is a great long-term plan, but it's going to be hard. Changing consumption habits is something people can do today, and if people don't purchase wasteful products (like beef), companies will stop producing them. Small habits are like voting. Does your one vote really make a difference? Almost never. But when a lot of people vote, it means something.
posted by FencingGal at 6:48 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, all responses welcome but I am specifically asking how best to influence governments and corporations as an individual. Much appreciate the suggestions so far; more are welcome and encouraged. Thanks!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:06 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I imagine (I’m sure I’m not alone) a global movement disrupting organisations they see as killing the Earth. I imagine activities ranging from civil-disobedience to geoengineering from many small actions (no matter how ill-informed). A viral mesh of people using IT and older comms. In the last year I’ve seen hints of this both IRL and on the web.

Bella Donna - I've PM'ed you
posted by unearthed at 2:51 AM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm working to get my local government in a major US city to accept the 5-gallon bucket with separate composting chamber (read: slightly modified wheelie trash bins) as an acceptable toilet. Per new international code.
posted by aniola at 9:25 AM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Advocacy for people who walk, bike, and use other forms of human-powered transportation. There's a lot of work to be done in this field on every scale.
posted by aniola at 12:57 PM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify, all responses welcome but I am specifically asking how best to influence governments and corporations as an individual. Much appreciate the suggestions so far; more are welcome and encouraged. Thanks!

Here's the thing - you are asking how you, as an individual, can counter the shittiness of collective institutions.

That's not how it works.

You need to find a group that inspires the hell out of you and join it and work on this collectively with other people. Climate change is a collective action problem - both the causes and the solutions. You will always feel lonely as an individual working on this, and your work as an individual is not as powerful until you join forces with others who care as much as you. You need to work on this in community with others, if for no other reason than to maintain your own sense of sanity that you aren't the only one freaking the fuck out about this. At some point, you will probably have to go shout at people who are doing shitty things to the water or air in your area. It's better to go with a squad of friends you've been building relationships with than going and shouting as one person.

See if one of the following national groups exists in your area, and if not, create your own local grassroots group:
350
Citizen's Climate Lobby
Sierra Club
Democratic Socialists of America (many local chapters have ecosocialism working groups)
posted by mostly vowels at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


If we talk about an individual’s climate impact, we have to talk about flying. One trans-American or trans-Atlantic return flight causes way more damage than a year of average meat-eating. It compares approximately to a year of car commuting 10 miles each way to work.

Abstaining from flying is a tough one for a lot of people, myself included. For me, largely because I live on a different continent from my family and old friends. It would feel difficult not to see them at least once per year. But also, we keep getting told - and keep telling each other - that traveling to new places is a thing to live for and that it makes you a better person to boot.

In Sweden, where I come from, there is a movement right now of refusing to fly altogether. While I don’t think a lot of people have been willing to make that jump, there’s been some press and debate about it. And as part of that discussion, someone suggested an “easy thing that makes a difference” that I thought was interesting: If you don't want to sacrifice that holiday trip, at least keep quiet about it. Don’t post pictures of beaches, mountains and exciting foreign cities to social media, because that contributes to the prevailing view of recreational travel as something highly desirable.
posted by Herr Zebrurka at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


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