Why we won’t be focusing on changing your lifestyle
Power Up for Climate Solutions is here to help people take action to tackle climate change. So I’ve spent a lot of time considering this question: What are most of us not yet doing that will make a big difference?
It may surprise you to hear that every single person I’ve asked who has joined Power Up for Climate Solutions is taking steps to lower their carbon footprint—whether it’s through eating a plant-based diet, driving less, buying less, conserving energy, installing solar panels, or purchasing renewable energy. And yet, most report feeling hopeless or at least discouraged about our chances of solving the climate crisis.
I think you already know that the behavioral changes you may be making aren’t enough. Emissions are rising again, climate impacts are intensifying, and as all credible scientific reports have emphasized, we are out of time.
We know that along with lifestyle changes, we need a rapid societal and political transformation. We need to become a country (and a world) transitioning quickly away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and clean energy. In order to begin this massive transformation, first we need to be talking about it—a lot.
The reason talking about climate change and climate solutions is vital is this: we humans are social animals. We are strongly influenced by our friends, family, peers, members of groups we belong to, our leaders, and our constituents. Studies have found that once 10% of a population are dedicated to a cause (such as a rapid and just transition to a clean energy economy), cues from these dedicated folks can very quickly shift the prevailing attitudes in a society, instigating unexpectedly rapid societal and political transformations. Examples include women gaining the right to vote, the civil rights movement, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the legalization of gay marriage, and the legalization of marijuana.
Polls indicate that we’ve blown well past this 10% threshold on climate change. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s newest survey, 72% of Americans say global warming is extremely, very, or somewhat important to them, and 29% are alarmed, an 8-point increase from March 2018. However, only 8% say they often discuss global warming with friends and family. I am convinced that the most important thing we now need to do is speak up more—with our friends, families, in our communities, to our elected officials, and just whoever! (By the way, I didn’t come up with this idea–see Joe Romm’s comments here.)
I hope you will continue to make all the lifestyle changes you can to reduce your carbon footprint and transition to a clean energy economy. We will sometimes offer actions in this arena. However, most of the actions from Power Up will focus on ways to communicate with and influence those around you. They may include suggestions for talking to everyone–your sister, your electrician, your city councilor, your senator–about why you care about climate change, why we can and we must address it, and solutions that are technically and economically feasible. Because we know this is how societal transformations get started.