How to Stop Freaking Out and Tackle Climate Change – NYT

Many people ask me about what they can do to really personally affect climate change. In this article today from the NY Times, Author Emma Marus presents the most concise overview of what’s really needed by individuals.  A five point plan for you to use in your everyday life. Hang this on your fridge door. Look at it daily. Everything beyond these ideas, like eating vegan, buying electric cars, etc. are all nice things to do, can make you feel better, but will not change the equation. Start here. Expand with whatever else you feel you want to do. And stop stressing. Climate change is here and we just have to deal with it as best we can.

My point is that the climate crisis is not going to be solved by personal sacrifice. It will be solved by electing the right people, passing the right laws, drafting the right regulations, signing the right treaties — and respecting those treaties already signed, particularly with indigenous nations. It will be solved by holding the companies and people who have made billions off our shared atmosphere to account.

5 Responses

  1. I also think that we each need to at least try out personal ascetic changes as we also try to make the huge government and infrastructure changes that it will take to deal with this catastrophe. Both/And. Saying that only the big solutions matter or that they are somehow more important than the small personal solutions seems ignorant to me.

    If we are unwilling to embrace the asceticism that is and will be required to fight climate change ourselves then why would any government official or other person we try to engage with on what is at stake and what needs to be done want to take us seriously. Even more, why would someone who doesn’t agree with us take us seriously when it is obvious that we are not doing our little part. It makes us look like we don’t even take ourselves seriously and like we don’t want the very changes we say we are fighting for.

    If we do achieve our goals of shutting down oil refineries and habitat destruction and putting a price on carbon it will drastically change how we can live. It will not be an easy life with all of those conveniences removed. I believe we need to practice right now and show the world that we actually take this thing seriously. Who knows, by trying out different versions of an ascetic life; our own personal versions, we might find new solutions that help the others around us to also move in a better direction. Those changes will ultimately be part of the broader solutions.

    It may only be a drop in the bucket, but it is my drop and I will be accountable for it, to the best of my ability.

    Thank you for your posts and your work on these issues.
    All the best, Scott

    • Scott, I certainly may have been misunderstood. The article I was referring to was meant to promote doing more than a simple act, even though that simple act is “good”. By all means, continue to do small acts that you feel help. But the article is saying that when the forest is burning down, pouring water on your house might save it and you, but advocating with hundreds of others to put in the protections to stop the fire in the first place is where the biggest bang for the effort will be had.
      All the best.

      • I think that the overarching suggestion in these comments is that the framing of the either/or approach by the author is creating a misleading and completely unnecessary conflict, and an oversimplification of how real-life problems are solved. Why the author couldn’t embrace a both/and approach is mystifying and unsettling.

        The article does NOT say, “By all means, continue to do small acts that you feel help” as you suggested. On the contrary, it says, “the climate crisis is not going to be solved by personal sacrifice. It will be solved by…” and then lists it’s chosen steps 3, 4, and 5.

        Worse yet, it mis-represents individual efforts. Arguing that individual efforts (e.g. an individual’s 16 metric tons of CO2) are too small to make any difference is like saying, “why should I vote? I’m just one voice.” It’s seriously flawed logic.

        And as Scott points out, there is an integral relationship between stopping something with legislation and the people having to live without that thing which was stopped. They are both essential parts of the puzzle.

        So I’m not saying that the author’s constructive suggestions aren’t good suggestions. I’m saying that the context he created to “ditch the shame” and to justify his suggestions as THE WAY to solve the crisis is seriously bogus.

  2. I don’t doubt that the suggestions made in this article will help. I do doubt that it’s the simple “either/or” situation suggested by the author: “My point is that the climate crisis is not going to be solved by personal sacrifice. It will be solved by electing the right people, passing the right laws, drafting the right regulations, signing the right treaties”.

    In fact, personal sacrifice can help show manufacturers that the market for their climate-vicious products is not sustainable.

    But what really bothers me about this article is that it lays out an exclusive (not an inclusive) plan, yet offers no evidence to demonstrate that this plan will do enough, soon enough. It’s just another opinion.

    • John, thanks for your comment. Personal sacrifice and buying decisions as you mention certainly show manufacturers to that you want them to make more of the products we buy. The organic movement is a great example of that. But there is little time left and the need to make massive changes is on us now, as Greta Thunberg so beautifully has said. That means ‘big’ change is more critical (not important) than small change. The good people of Australia, Santa Rosa, Puerto Rico, Paradise, and many other locations around the world will not be helped by me buying a solar panel for my house or an ecar. Wish it were so! If doing those things make one feel good about themselves, more power to them. Please do it! Many cannot afford an ecar, or solar panels without government incentives. But the article clearly lays out the big stuff that we all can use daily to feel we are working towards a positive outcome. You don’t need to be well off to do these things. It’s a way to feel positive in the face of huge storm clouds gathering above us.

      But the article is just a starting point. A high level quick read on the landscape. As to ‘demonstrating’ it will do enough soon enough, let me state clearly, we are in the beginning of massive shift of environment. It’s too late to stop and reverse it. The change is underway and even if we stopped everything now, (i.e. like a “Day the Earth Stood Still” moment) it is too late to reverse it and go back to the 90s. We are in it, and the only thing left to do, IMHO is to figure out how to change to meet it. This means that individual decisions matter.

      The article states “Define your role.” That’s what I have done for the last 13 years with this blog. I consider myself an environmental educator, helping the people of this Peninsula understand the issues facing them.

      Over the past 20 years I’ve joined a lot of effective groups. There many out there to join. Currently, I am not affiliated with any one group, other than the Democrats, to try and steer their environmental policies in effective ways. How well am I doing that? I don’t know, but I do know that my local legislators all know me by first name and understand that when I come to ask something of them, it’s with a thorough understanding of the issues.

      As to ditching the shame, I did that long ago. I assume I am doing my best, I’m not trying to be a poster child for the environment, as Greta is so effectively doing. But I am proud of my small achievements.

      However, the bottom line is that the mitigating changes that will be needed are massive governmental shifts quickly away from coal, and other fossil fuels. This will necessitate country wide incentives in China, India and the US to get everyone to understand that the discounts for ecars, solar and more are available and required. The only way I see this happening is to follow the guidelines presented in this article. I’ve been saying as much for years now.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


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