(Read Part One of this post here)
If there is one thing that stood out at the people's climate march was just how many agendas, viewpoints, causes and spiritual convictions, it channelled together. There was, of course, the criticism that the march did not have a single clear message, that there was no list of demands, no universal agenda. That the blame was not placed directly enough, that the tone was too jubilant, and not serious enough or forceful. But I feel like those commentators sort of missed the point.
The groups and individuals organizing the march are trying to build a movement, to bring together a number converging groups, from very different backgrounds around the single issue that effects everyone. The very idea that groups like labour, indigenous rights, student rights, veterans against wars for oil, people for wind energy and people against fracking, should have somehow sat together for months, possibly years, to draft a detailed agenda of everything we demand, is slightly ludicrous. It also exhibits the old kind of activist thinking, in which that our interests don't intersect. That divestment means job loss. That Christian groups can't be in agreement with the LGBTQ-folks. That undocumented immigrants are at odds with labor activists. That those marching for sustainable agriculture, won't march next to animal rights activists.
The march was, as had been said time and time again, a way to unite people who have been working on different sides of the same issue and to show others, peripherally concerned, that there is a movement for them, for all of us to join in. That's all. It was a call to action, not just to our complacent leaders, but to all of us; designed so that anyone who has been worrying about climate change could sound it, not just folks in the margins, not just hardcore activists, but families, small-town grandparents, elementary school classes, metro bus drivers, scientists and retired air force colonels.
There was a tacit agreement that for now we march and rejoice and gather our strength and then, we are going to discuss the particulars, but also get to work in our respective fields of interest, armed with the knowledge that others, elsewhere are working towards the same goals from a different angle. That you can build a movement from seemingly disparate pieces and you have to start somewhere.
As Naomi Klein put it at the end of her speech at the closing plenary of the Climate Convergence, her voice breaking even as she was leading up to it, speaking of the long road that many activists have traveled to get to this point:
"This time we're maybe saying: do something. Next time we say: Now we want everything!"
So what does this mean from the smaller, more personal perspective? What kind of action can we all take in our own lives to help battle global climate change? Those of us ready to act, ready to march, may be looking to the next big action, the next big shift, and hopefully as this movement builds up those will keep coming, but even more important is the work that we do in our own communities and in our personal lives every day.
Here's a completely non-comprehensive list of "climate hacks" emotional, spiritual, practical and communal. Many of them are simply examples, so don't get too hung up on the particulars. They're tried and true tricks, some I personally do often, or will do more now in order to continue to stay connected to the larger framework of this movement. Feel free to add to the list in the comments, and tell your stories of actions, big and small that you've taken, or continue to take.
1. First, assess your level involvement and your level of satisfaction with that involvement. The way our lives currently unfold in this particular paradigm (or whatever paradigm you happen to live in), the systemic and endemic problems we face actually make it really hard for us to be active. So be like a good teacher with yourself: kind and gentle, yet firm. Start small, but be honest.
Already spend three hours a month writing to your congress person? That's great. Add another hour and invite a friend to join you. Don't spend a single hour a month writing to your congress person? Try it out for one letter. Never been to a protest? This could be your chance. Been to plenty of protests? Give organizing a try. The possibilities of involvement are literally endless and multifaceted. But you do have to figure out what you can do and what fits into your life with a little squeezing.
This is something that will ebb and flow, but of course, as we become more involved, our involvement will in turn grow, in a sort snowball kind of way. Just remember, be kind to yourself. Exponential growth is a myth.
2.Get informed. Arm yourself with facts. Whether or not this is information that you've been avoiding, or something that you peripherally know, now is the time to peek under the bed and face the monster. Read up on the basics of global climate change and the science. Then find out how it's effecting your country, state, county, and town.
I'm generally not a fan of buying books (or anything else for that matter) new, but if you can, I actually really recommend buying and reading This Changes Everything right now, in the expensive hardback copy (unless of course you win it from me;). Why? Because that'll help keep it on the bestseller lists and that way even more people will become, interested and possibly even informed. Another really good one, is Field Notes From a Catastrophe. Listen to alternative news podcasts while you do chores. Set your browser homepage to a newspaper that actually talks about climate change. Don't get overwhelmed by facts, but do try to gain an understanding how scientists and other experts think that things are going to unfold.
Hard as facing and accepting these fact will be, it will also help strengthen your resolve to act. It will also enable you to help inform others and not get flustered when your republican cousin starts filibustering about it at Thanksgiving.
3. Find your angle. Are you a feminist? Find out how climate change ties into women's rights. Are you parent? Find out how you can better your children's future. A nature lover? Find out what warming temperatures, or irregular weather patterns will do to your bio-region. Religious? Does your church do relief work related to the issue? Have your religious leaders addressed it? Did you vote in the last election? What is your elected representative doing about this topic? (Even if you were unable to vote, you are still a constituent of your district's representative.)
No one is asking you to know everything about all the issues, let alone deal with them all, but you are asked to view your involvement in a wider context. Finding your way into the climate movement through your existing priorities, can be simpler and more comfortable than plugging into something completely unfamiliar.
4. Be local. It's not just about eating local, buying local, using local services and supporting local small businesses, which reduces your carbon footprint and supports the resilience and self-sufficiency of your area, but it 's also about knowing where you live. In a globalized world we all move around a lot, shaking regional identities often enough to not really familiarize ourselves with them. This can make us complacent about the impact we're having on places. It can make us blissfully ignorant about shifts in patterns, or the disappearance of native species.
Learn to know the history of your area, so as to understand the conflicts that climate action may face there, learn your about the plants and fauna of your immediate surrounding area, as well as your bio-region, learn about the indigenous people who may have been displaced from that area.
Work at becoming a native species. Even if you're just passing through. This will not just help you connect what is happening in your neighborhood to the wider issues of climate change, it will also improve your quality of life. I promise. Find out what your local climate-related issues are. Coal plants, coal trains, big ag, fracking, processing plants, mining, and so on, but also really more seemingly innocuous stuff like habitat loss, almost unnoticeable native species in danger. This will help give you focus and something close to home to be outraged by.
Find positive local solutions. Find out about local conservation efforts, find out about where and how your household waste and waste water is dealt with, find out how your power company works and whether it can be turned into a co-op and whether that co-op can invest in renewables…
Get spiritual, political and…gasp! maybe even radical…:
1. Don't fall pray to magical thinking. Once you've done your research, you'll know that the odds are good that no guru, no miracle energy source, no effortless paradigm shift from the sheer power of positive thinking is going to save our assess. As much as I would LOVE to be proven wrong on any of these accounts, I think that it is important that we act as though we had no other choice.
2. Build Community. So you don't have an awesome posse of like-minded activist friends. Me neither. Find groups in your area that are into what you're into. Locate your local 350 chapter and find out about actions and events. Maybe you'll make new activist friends. But better yet: turn your old friends into new activist friends. Ask a friend to go to a meeting with you, or participate in a letter-writing campaign over a bottle of wine, or at least some delicious teas. You can spend quality time together, all the while you seal envelopes. Select a thought-provoking book for your book club. Get your PTA to do an Earth Day action. If you can't find a group you can join, start one and invite friends and family. You may find you're more like-minded on the topic than you thought. Maybe someone just needed to bring the issue to the surface.
Have solidarity. Stay informed on the what's going on with the rest of the movement and connect with people working on the same issues you are, whether they're in the next county over, or in Papua New Guinea. Make sure that your community of activists connects with others near and far. Learn about indigenous struggles, challenges of other continents, the issues people of other socioeconomic niches and ethnic backgrounds are dealing with around this single, bigger problem. There's no better way to get ideas and learn new things. Come out to support others who are not in your immediate interest group when they need you. You may make internets friends. Or real life allies.
3. Demand your elected leaders to represent you. I know letter-writing sounds like listening to Bob Dylan on an 8-track, while wearing polyester bell-bottoms, but there's a reason why it's an activist staple. Regardless of the big money the corporations use to buy elections, your elected official still needs you to vote for them come election season. This is all the more true the more local the election. Even if your chosen representative didn't win, the guy who holds the seat still represents you. And if you did vote for them what they do reflects directly on you.
Write. Be polite, articulate and firm, but also authentic. Your representative probably gets plenty of form-letters, but not as many heartfelt pleas, possibly with photos, or hand-drawn cards made by the smallest of constituents, or typewritten notes explaining to them that should they fail to act, your PTA, clean-air advocacy, book club, or witch's coven is going to storm City Hall. Which BTW, you can fight.
Speaking of hand-written notes from kids. Get your kids involved. Have them think of something they care about and write to their representative about it. In my experience children can really benefit from early exposure to the idea that they have a say.
ps. Don't be a slacktivist. Posting endless online petitions and articles on social media, is not enough of an action to feel good about. If you do it, back it up with something that involves actual thought and care and even lifting your booty off the chair.
4. Demand that your religious leaders stick to their moral commitments. Same thing. If your Buddhist Temple owns stock in big oil, it's your duty to point out that this is multiple steps off the Eight-Fold Path.
5. Show up. Find out about meetings, be they the city council, your neighborhood, or the zoning board, relating to climate issues and try to be there. Bring your elders, bring your friends, bring your kids.
Show solidarity with other groups by going to rallies for them. Don't be a nimbyist. Have a "not here or anywhere" policy. If you're not okay with a coal plant in your neighborhood, you shouldn't be okay with it in another neighborhood across town.
Hopefully we'll all get plenty more marching experience, with actions across the country. Find out what folks are marching for near you.
6. Demand answers from companies you buy from. If every mom in America wrote a letter to whatever retailer they buy their kid's clothes from, every time they do it, detailing how much more they would be willing to pay for said clothes if they were a) fairly made b) environmentally sound c) more durable, I'm pretty sure they would pay attention. If you're frustrated with the lack of both affordable and ethical options in the consumer goods you buy, let the companies know. They have 1800-numbers.
7. Schedule action time and keep up on what you care about. I try to take a few evenings a month when instead surfing around the internet aimlessly, I catch up on issues I care about and write those letters, or find out about actions to take, or local issues. This way you'll never miss a historic moment. Or a zoning board meeting.
Big events have big potential, both for paralyzing people with fear and despair and for catalyzing otherwise busy and/or complacent folks into action.
9. Be in nature. It's easier to fight for the one you know and love.
Be with animals. I don't mean majestic elk, or wolves, or whale watching. I mean, observe and acknowledge animal life around you. Saving the birds, the bugs and the tadpoles, from shrinking habitats, to changing migration markers, should be part of all of our mission. It's not just about people, people.
10. Speaking of which, Keep a Nature Journal. If you jot down your observations about the changing of the seasons, the migrations of birds, the appearance of bugs, the temperatures, the rainfalls, the fire seasons, the berry ripenings, patterns will begin to appear. A great activity for little humans.
11. Acknowledge compromise. Acknowledge that your trip to New York city generates carbon, acknowledge that you're driving too much, acknowledge Madewell-brand cotton shirts waste water in areas of the world already effected by water-loss from climate change, acknowledge that cheap meat is an all-around climate disaster, acknowledge that consumer goods and food imports have a huge carbon footprint…
Don't get overwhelmed and depressed, but try to acknowledge it when you compromise, because that acknowledgement is the final check on the necessity of that compromise. Some compromises can't be helped, but others can not be made, or at least not made again, if we stop thinking of them as "normal", things to do.
12. Make it fun. I know that acknowledging every climate compromise you make sounds more like an endless parade of self-flagellation, but it can also make you appreciate abundance instead of bemoaning too much choice, or help you re-find the wonder flying, or an appreciation for new shoes, or the magic of digital devices.
Be creative in your activism, use it to meet people, feel empowered, discover hidden talents you didn't even know you possessed (Who knew you were great at community organizing?!!). Celebrate your victories, however small. Learn about places and cultures and people and species you didn't even know you were connected...
Celebrate the season, do certain things at certain times of the year. Gather food and medicine and make preserves and teas. The possibilities for fun really are endless.
13. Be loud and proud. Don't be a closeted environmentalist. Don't be intimidated by labels. Like nature, or the Earth? Don't want it to go to the pits? Are willing to do something about it? You're an environmentalist.
Maybe you already know of all of these things, but the bottom-line with making personal choices against climate change, is that no matter what the future holds, we're all probably going to be forced to do with at least a little less. Less choice, less material goods, less disposable income, less security, less abundance. If we make some of those choices willingly now, we may collectively be able to avert being forced to make them later.
1. Be local. I know I already said this but eating locally and seasonally is as environmentally sound as it gets. It's an everyday action anyone can participate in. I know there are some limitations to this, but as a basic statement of where we should be putting our dollars, this one is pretty sound.
Also, if you can't afford it, or feel like local organic is elitist, a great way to help with that is to start an organic food pantry, a farm food bank, or help make sure your closest farmer's market takes food stamps. If you happen to grow your own produce, consider growing a little extra for your local food bank.
Growing your own is great, but if that is not an option for one reason or another, getting your basic groceries as local, seasonal and organic as possible is a grand start.
2. Make your own, borrow and buy used. I know. I know. Vintage, DIY movement, makers, blah blah blah… but to be totally honest, one of the easiest ways to safe money and add more satisfaction to your life, is the create your own versions of the consumer goods you're forced to spend your hard earned dollars on. Make your own cleaning supplies, or bake your own bread, knit your own socks, or simply help your kids create toys, all of these actions are good for both you and the planet.
As for used items, more often than not, we all know someone who already has it, if you can't take whatever it is home for the night, or over the weekend and then return it, I bet it's at your nearest thrift store, or maybe on craigslist.
3. Get organized and share resources. Don't have enough time, or resources to devote to your favorite cause, or even making apple sauce?
Find ways to share the workload with others who feel the same and want to do the same things, whether it's car-pooling, or neighborhood childcare, canning, or broth making, anything that saves you on travel time and gasoline, is probably good for everyone, the environment included. You can achieve things you dream off, like driving less, or having a garden by finding others with similar goals. Share tools of for preservation, for yard work, share books, share magazine subscriptions, share clothes, share babysitters. Share resources.
Each one teach one. Don't be afraid to ask for help, if you want to do something, but don't know how. Don't be afraid to share your expertise on a particular topic with those who might need more help with it.
Prioritize the things that really matter and try to get more of them by organizing and less of that which depletes you and warms the planet. Make a meal plan, so that you don't have to drive to the grocery store as often. Plan a family fun day, or a date, at home, or in your neighborhood rather than driving to some attraction somewhere else and spending half the day in a car. The possibilities are endless.
4. Eat less meat and fly less. For the longest time when folks did talk about climate change, they would often lament that there was no action they could personally take. Then when we found out that there was a couple of things, most everyone balked at them.
When it comes to meat, or animal protein in general, it's really important to finally read all those awful things about the impacts of factory farming on the environment, the animals and our own health. Then not eating much meat won't be much of stretch at all. Do yourself a favor. Get convinced before you watch any of those videos.
5. Conserve. Make a point of conserving, as a family or with a group of friends. Schedule a car-free day once a week. If you already have one, schedule another one. This is will also help to appreciate the rides you do go on and mitigate their impact. Turn off the lights, the computers and the televisions for a night. I'd leave the fridge and the freezer on. But candle light ghost stories, or star gazing, or heck, light pollution gazing can be pretty fun.
Even if you want to keep the lights on, consider and unplugging month, where you try to save as much electricity as possible, by unplugging devices that aren't being used and turning off the ones that usually always stay on. Figure out if makes a difference in your power bill (I'm so doing this, as the nights get longer here, we use so much more kilowatts).
6. Act on local concerns. Live in California? Put a bucket in your shower during the dry season and flush your toilet with the water. Live in Paris? Use public transportation and demand the city council make it affordable. Live in Florida? Make sure you've got your storm kit and make doubly sure that your city has its too. Live anywhere in Canada? Make a "fuck harper"-T-shirt. Just kidding.
7. Divest. Lucky enough to have some stocks from Grandma? Make sure they're not in big oil. Have a pension fund? In college? Make sure your money is not being spent on destroying your future.
8. Speaking of money. Can't afford to financially support you favorite causes? Learn to pinch pennies from surprising sources. Also, if you get organized and make adjustments to your plans, or start making more things instead of buying them, keep a tally of whether you're saving any money. Things like not driving as much, cooking more simply, or simply refraining from buying things, can add up pretty quickly (Definitely something I'm planning to work on this coming season.)
9. Doubt everything. If you're not sure whether your choice in political candidate, sweatshirt, brand of cereal is in line with your values, it's probably not. Don't assume that things are what they seem. This could also be worded another way: think for yourself. Do research. Check the facts.
Now what do you think we ought to do to keep this momentum going?
And remember: every comment has a chance at winning a copy of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything and comment is free!
I'm sorry I didn't get this post up last night like I promised. I could have sworn I had it scheduled, but it was not meant to be.