Three ways to take meaningful action on Climate Change
Americans have been marching for lots of reasons recently, climate change being one of them. And that’s awesome — it’s about time we rediscovered our collective voice to stand up and say “this is not OK.” And yet, there is plenty of legitimate criticism of this form of movement building. Naomi Klein summed it up well recently: “Traveling to Washington, having a protest to try and convince Republican Senators to develop a conscience? Well, it’s worth a try, I guess.” But perhaps that’s not the only reason we march.
Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Therein lies, to me, what is so important about protesting. It builds our enthusiasm for change, our conviction to take action, our personal resolve. We see that we’re not the only ones outraged. And we realize that collectively, we have power; a critical first step to creating change. The question is — what do we do with that power? Now that the marches have fired us up, here are a few ideas of ways to channel that enthusiasm into action.
1) Engage people across the political divide
The election of Donald Trump has made clear that climate change is not a top concern for many Americans. They are more worried about jobs, the economy, national security, and upholding their faith, among other issues. Washington will change its tune on climate change only when the vast majority of Americans (not just progressives at a rally) support action on climate and clean energy. To get there, we must make our message more relatable, personal, and in line with people’s values. A single mother of four in Ohio is more concerned about keeping her job at a local factory than she is about the plight of polar bears. But we may be able to encourage her and similar people to care about climate change and clean energy if we talk about the issues in relation to things they care about. Consider:
· In Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality he proclaims Climate Change the moral issue of our time and calls on people of faith to be protectors of the environment.
· The Department of Defense has cited Climate Change as one of the top threats to our national security.
· Jobs in solar energy are growing 17 times faster than the rest of the economy, and while solar only produces 1% of the country’s electricity, the industry employs more people than oil, coal, and gas combined.
These are all compelling reasons to shift to a clean energy powered economy. Doing so would fulfill a spiritual duty (across faiths) to sustain our planet, would make our country and our world a safer place, and would create many well-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.
We also have to examine who is delivering the message. Liberals from the coasts are often disregarded by rust belt conservatives before a conversation even begins, regardless of the message. I love Al Gore, but he’s not helping to make this a bipartisan issue. So it’s important we encourage new messengers who can engage conservative America on climate change. A good example is Bob Inglis, a Republican Congressman from South Carolina who lost his seat because he openly expressed concern about climate change. He’s since started an organization called republicEN to rally young Republicans to advocate for conservative approaches to solving climate change.
In short, we have to do more to relate to people at different ends of the political spectrum. When doing so, we have to engage thoughtfully and meaningfully by finding common ground around values that all Americans can get behind.
2) Take action at the community level
The next critical action is to show real solutions at the community level. For some reason, we’ve accepted the idea that solving climate change requires the federal government’s support. Rubbish. It sure would be nice, but it’s by no means necessary. And this actually may be the silver lining of the Trump presidency — now that it’s clear that Trump will do everything he can to derail efforts to combat climate change, the movement must finally accept that the Feds won’t save us. That means we have to transform our society from the ground up ourselves. So let’s get practical.
There are a number of great initiatives focused on community-based solutions. For example, GRID Alternatives brings solar to low-income families, Community Power Network organizes neighborhoods in solar energy group buying programs, and RE-volv (the nonprofit I founded) trains people to crowdfund solar energy projects for nonprofits in their community. In RE-volv’s model, as the nonprofits pay back the costs of the solar panels with savings on their electric bills, the crowdfunding campaign backers get to reinvest that money on the RE-volv platform into other solar projects. This revolving fund model thus takes a ‘pay-it-forward’ approach to solar energy and has multiple ripple effects. First, it saves the nonprofits money on their electric bills, which helps them better serve the community and facilitates a positive conversation about solar energy with community members. The message is no longer ‘we should all go solar to save the polar bears’ but rather ‘we should go solar to improve our neighborhood.’ Second, putting up solar on well-known nonprofits like local schools, homeless shelters, and houses of worship, raises visibility of solar, and helps spread the contagious effect of solar. (If you want to join the fun, we’re currently crowdfunding solar projects in Oakland; Philadelphia; and Scarborough, Maine; and each of these projects could use your support! You can also start your own solar project in your community.)
Local solutions allow us to showcase what is possible when community comes together. Through crowdfunding, awareness building, events, and collaborative partnerships, we can make tremendous strides towards creating more sustainable communities. Other examples of community empowerment include community gardens, carpooling networks, co-housing, tool sharing libraries, clothing swaps, giving circles, local currencies and more. Community-level initiatives are our best bet for reducing the threat of climate change quickly. Be creative!
3) Make a personal commitment
This is always the most cliché. If I change my light bulb will that really make a significant impact? Well, no. But it will if enough of us do it. And if you reading this article don’t do it, then who will? Trends have to start somewhere. In order to be a meaningful messenger on climate change, you have to make a personal commitment. I’m sure many of you reading this are already very aware of your climate impact and make great efforts to reduce it. So now that we’re all riled up from marching, think of how you can take things one step further. Might you consider committing to some of these actions to further reduce your impact on the climate?
· Going solar at home. Making your residence more energy efficient.
· Not eating meat one day a week. Going vegetarian or vegan. Eating organic, local, and less processed foods. Growing your own food in your backyard or a community garden.
· Biking to work. Taking public transportation instead of driving. Running your car on biodiesel or switching to an electric vehicle (if that’s within your means).
· Consuming less. Keeping your current cell phone until it breaks rather than getting the newest model. Buying your clothes and home goods at a thrift store instead of brand new. Giving up plastic water bottles.
· Conserving water throughout your day.
· Going on a vacation locally rather than flying somewhere.
Whatever it is, let it be something significant to you. Because every time you make the choice to stick to that commitment, you’ll remind yourself why this is important, and that’s how we keep the momentum from the marches alive. Also, doesn’t it seem that many of these choices have a whole host of personal benefits, from exercising and living healthfully to saving money, aside from reducing CO2 emissions? Take action, feel good about it, and show others how easy it is to make small, meaningful changes in how we interact with our world.
In order to solve the climate crisis, we have to do more than march. We have to think creatively and act swiftly to bridge the political divide on climate change. This means finding common ground as well as finding new messengers that are less divisive. We have to show examples of solutions at the community level that people can get behind. And we have to continually push ourselves to make significant commitments for the climate. Solving climate change will require nothing short of a total transformation of the way society operates. And that requires our effort 365 days a year. The solutions are here. It’s up to us to put them to use.
RE-volv has historically worked with student groups, called Solar Ambassadors, to encourage solar crowdfunding campaigns in a university’s community. While this partnership has worked well, the goal has been to empower anyone who wants to support their local nonprofits with solar. For the first time we are doing this through our “Solar Champion” program, where any volunteer from the local community can run a campaign with support from RE-volv.
To learn a little bit about their motivations, we asked the Solar Champions to tell us a bit about themselves and what motivated them to get involved with RE-Volv and the Harbor House project.
Energy is kind of my life. When I was exposed to energy issues in college, I was immediately drawn to how big the problem was and how many ways it could be tackled. In college, I studied materials science and engineering at MIT and tried to look at it from that angle. Then I got interested in policy and moved to DC to work on how cities are engaged with issues in sustainability. Now, my ever changing path has brought me to the Bay Area where I work at a solar company, Sunpower, through the Climate Corps Bay Area fellowship.
When I moved to the Bay Area, I knew I wanted to get involved with the community in which I lived. It was also around election time, where everyone was looking for a way to give back. After hearing about RE-volv on a webinar and being bathed by personal, feel-good buzz words like “community”, “solar”, and “empowerment”, I jumped on the opportunity. Becoming a Solar Champion allowed me to use my passion in a way that could support my community, all while learning important professional skills that are so helpful early in my career.
About eight years ago, I began to work with renewable energy and energy efficiency both on a professional and on a personal basis. At my employer, McKinsey & Company, I joined the Climate Change practice, and almost at the same time, we started to make plans to retrofit our house to make it much more energy efficient. We installed both PV and solar for warm water, among several other measures, and reduced our gas consumption to a third of our usual bill, when everything was completed. We also paid a lot less for electricity. I think everyone should have this opportunity, and particularly people and organizations that need it most. That’s why I love to support this cause as a Solar Champion volunteer for RE-volv.
During undergrad, I was closely involved with running education and outreach for energy reduction projects on my campus. My fellowship right now doesn’t have opportunities to be as involved as I would like with energy and things I’ve been involved with before, so naturally I had to look for it elsewhere. Luckily, I found those things in being a Solar Champion, and I was able to learn more about renewable energy and get in touch with my community at the same time!
With a strong passion for sustainability, RE-volv allows me the opportunity to not only give back to my community, but also improve my overall understanding of the renewable energy sector. Currently working as an environmental specialist on NEPA procurement for airport improvement projects and pursuing a Master’s Degree in Sustainable Management with the University of Wisconsin, I volunteer with RE-volv because it is an organization with great direction and leadership. As a Solar Champion, I am proud to assist RE-volv in driving a community-based transition towards solar energy.
Learn more about the Harbor House solar project here: https://re-volv.org/project/harborhouse/