We all know how urgent the climate crisis is. The latest IPCC report made it clear that we, the human race, need to make unprecedented changes to every aspect of how society operates.
Either we change how society works, or mother nature will change it for us.
“The next few years are probably the most important in our history.” – Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II
We need to start making drastic changes TODAY.
Lucky for us, we know what we need to do (eliminate greenhouse gas emissions ASAP!) and we still have a little time to do it. We can still stop, and eventually reverse, global warming.
In other words, we can still change society on our terms.
These changes, by the way, also happen to make the world a safer, healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable place to live. It’s undeniable that our lives will improve by making these changes…not a bad deal, right?
So, the next logical step that more and more of us are taking is to ask, “How can I help?”
I decided to go to the experts. I asked some of our sustainability leaders who will be in the history books one day and likely winning the Nobel Prize for Climate Change (once it exists) – we’re talking that kind of star-power. I asked them all one question:
What is the most effective thing that someone can do to help reverse global warming?
Here’s what they had to say:
Author, entrepreneur, activist. Co-founder of Project Drawdown which has identified the top 100 solutions to reverse global warming (also an excellent book).
“The single most important thing to do about reversing global warming is to recognize there is no one single thing, that addressing global warming is a way of seeing the world, a way of being in the world, a pathway to understanding that human systems created the problem and thus the cure is within the whole of the system. The most impactful act an individual can do will depend on that person’s life, knowledge, community, influence, relationships, courage. It will be different for everyone. Together, we act and make a difference. It is not about what “I” can do. It is about what we can do. Carbon is an atom (and molecule) that holds hands and collaborates. That is what global warming is telling us to do.”
Former head of the EPA under Barack Obama. Current Director of Harvard’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment.
“Going out to young people and getting them engaged is the most important thing we can do right now. They have to step up. We all have to step up and we have to stop arguing with one another and we just have to vote, we have to act, we have to forget about the things we can’t change and we don’t like, and we have to make it the world we want. That’s it. It’s hard work. Pull up your pants and let’s go.”
Climate Scientist, Founder of Skeptical Science (explains climate change simply), Researcher at George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication.
“The most effective thing we can do as individuals to fight global warming is break the climate silence. Talk to our friends, family, and most importantly, our elected officials – letting them know we care about the issue of climate change and want to hand over a safe world to our children. It’s only by building social and political momentum that we will make the needed transition to clean, renewable society.”
Michael E Mann
Director, Earth System Science Center at Penn State. IPCC Author. Many awards including partial Nobel Peace Prize and Bloomberg’s 50 Most Influential People. Co-founder of realclimate.org.
“Putting pressure on our elective representatives to act. We need to put a price on carbon and incentivize renewable energy to accelerate the transition underway from fossil fuels to green energy.
But we cannot do that as individuals. Only our policymakers can do that. That means we must vote in politicians who favor action, vote out those who don’t, and put as much pressure as possible (in the form of activism, letter-writing, organizing, you name it) on our policymakers to act now.”
Co-founder of DearTomorrow, where people write letters to loved ones in 2050, sharing their thoughts on climate change and what actions they promise to take.
“From my perspective, talking about climate change is the single most effective thing that you can do.
By this, I don’t mean having an argument with someone in your family who disagrees. I mean thinking deeply about why you care about climate change – why this matters to you – and then sharing this perspective with your own friends and family and with your community. This action – talking about climate in an authentic, personal way – helps normalize the idea that climate change is an important, urgent issue and breaks the invisibility or climate silence that currently exists within our culture.
Without changing how we think about and talk about climate change, we will not pass bold policies nor see the behavior changes that are so desperately needed.”
One of the most influential climate activists in the world. Author, journalist. Founder of the worldwide 350.org climate movement. Wrote ‘The End of Nature’ in 1988, the first book on global warming for a common audience. Too many awards to list.
“We don’t have time for incremental, individual changes. Time is just a physical constraint that we’re dealing with. And so the most important things an individual can do is be less of an individual. Join together with other people in movements large enough to affect changes in policy and economics that might actually move the system enough to matter. You can’t do it anymore one light bulb, one vegan dinner at a time. You should do those things and do them for a whole variety of reasons like they’re the morally right thing to do and they’re going to save you money, and they’re going to make you more healthy and whatever. But don’t do them expecting that by doing them you’ve somehow done your duty.
What we need you to be is effective citizens moving policy. Citizenship has not been the thing we’ve been best at in this country in recent years and we’re paying the price in a number of places, but the most obvious probably and the most long term damage is what we’re doing to the physical systems of the Earth.
So that’s my sense of things. Movements are, history would indicate, the one way we have of standing up to unjust, entrenched power.”
Climatologist.Oceanographer. Head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Top 1% of the world’s most-cited researchers in the field of Geosciences.
“How would I know what the most effective is? That is guesswork, but if you insist I would say:
Always vote for candidates and parties that work for climate protection.”
(^^This made me smile – a true scientist’s response.)
Retired astronaut. Former military fighter pilot and test pilot, an engineer, and a retired U.S. Navy captain. Lived in space for 1 year straight – a US record.
“Vote for political candidates that believe in science.”
Leading climate scientist and communicator. Hosts PBS’s “Global Weirding” Youtube series. Director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center. Lead author for the National Climate Assessment. Won TIME’s 100 most influential people, FORTUNE’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders.
“The single most important thing we can do about climate change is, talk about it!
Studies have shown that not even 25 percent of people in the U.S. hear somebody else talk about climate change more than once or twice a year. The biggest challenge we face isn’t science denial. It’s complacency: nobody thinks climate change is going to affect them personally, and why would they if we never talk about it?
Climate action begins with a conversation about why it matters and what we can do about it.”
World leading scientist, communicator, and activist. Some call him the “Father of climate change awareness”. Testified to Congress in 1988 to put global warming on the map. Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies for 42 years. Pioneering climate modeler. Director of the “Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions” at Columbia University. Too many awards to list.
“Join and participate in Citizens Climate Lobby – it’s free!”
“My primary purpose for existence is helping scale solutions to climate change.” Lecturer for the Earth Systems Program at Stanford University. Founding President of Etho Capital. Founding CEO of Oroeco.
“Here are my top 3 things individuals can (and must) do to solve climate change:
- Make sure all your investments are divested from fossil fuels and invested in climate-smart companies, then push your employer retirement plan or pension to offer climate-smart investments for everyone.
- Eat less red meat and dairy, which will also make you healthier and save you money. Unfortunately grass-fed beef and dairy is even worse for climate than feedlot systems, so the only climate-friendly solution is to shift your diet towards lower carbon meats or plant proteins.
- Talk with everyone you know about your climate concerns and solutions, even when the conversations are hard, and share free sites like Oroeco.com to see what climate solutions make the biggest differences for you and your family and friends. We’ll only solve climate if we make climate problems and solutions a much bigger part of our collective conversation.”
Co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, which is getting fossil fuel money out of politics and electing leaders who will actually tackle climate change. Rising star.
“The science is indisputable, the technology is here, the vast majority of the public is with us on the need to take drastic action to stop the climate crisis. All that stands in the way is the political will.
The #1 thing to do is to join a movement or organization working to change the political tide in this country and is fighting for the real solutions to the crisis that we need.
We need millions of people in the streets and at the ballot box to put politicians in office who’ll take the action we need and kick fossil-fuel funded ones out. We need people out talking to their neighbors, recruiting volunteers, donating resources (money, yes but also time, cars, food, living spaces, technical skills, and more) if we’re going to have a chance in hell of stopping the greatest existential threat to human civilization as we know it.
Get involved. Everyone doing their part is the only way we’ll get out of this mess.”
Energy wonk, winner of numerous awards. Chair of 38 North Solutions. Part of The Energy Gang podcast.
“Hold your elected officials accountable! Ask everyone running for office their stance on global warming and their action plan for addressing climate change. Elected officials who serve constituents should be responsible for protecting those constituents in every way, including climate.
Everyone can pitch in – even in seemingly small ways – to change their habits and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Take a bus instead of driving to work; buy food from the farmer’s market; put your thermostat on a timer; replace your lights with LED bulbs; recycle everything you can. Every little bit helps!”
Author, business adviser, and speaker. Helps businesses to become sustainable and navigate climate risks. (Check out his latest hit book, ‘The Big Pivot’)
“There is no one quick answer to the ‘most effective’ thing people can do. A lot depends on where people are in their lives and work.
For many, the most impactful area could be through work.
But as an individual, the list of big actions is not that long: thinking about consumption and what we truly need in life, flying and driving less, eating less meat (while meat is produced in the ways it mostly is today), telling companies you buy from that you want greener products, and so on.
But all that said, the single biggest thing now is to vote for people who support aggressive, strong climate action.”
Communications Coordinator at Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which works with elected officials to get a price on carbon in such a way that 100% of the revenue would be returned to the people.
“The most effective thing someone can do to reverse global warming is to ask their representatives to support carbon pricing.
If you live in the US, call or write to your members of Congress and ask them to support the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This bill was introduced on November 27 into the U.S. House and grew to 10 cosponsors. A couple of weeks later, a Republican and Democrat introduced a companion bill into the Senate as well. The Energy Innovation Act is big, broad legislation to bring down our carbon emissions. It would put a steadily rising price on carbon pollution, returning the revenue to people in the form of monthly dividend checks. Economists, scientists, and climate activists agree that this is the most efficient, effective solution to fight climate change.
Regular folks like you and me need to reach out to our representatives and senators to ask them to support it! You can learn more and take action here.”
Environmental justice activist. Focused on ending oil drilling in neighborhoods like hers. Student.
“To educate themselves. You can’t make change without being educated on the matter.
Change starts with you.
People need to realize that their daily actions affect the world. We need to recognize that power lies within us, the people, and it’s up to us to make change.
Every little bit counts. You can help to reverse global warming.”
If we’re going to solve global warming, it will probably be because enough people like you and me started doing these things. What we each do matters. A lot.
There are hundreds of things you could be doing to help reverse global warming, but we need to focus on the most effective actions. As you can see, incremental changes alone aren’t good enough anymore. We need to take the actions that will have the most impact.
The best actions to take, as identified by the sustainability experts above are as follows:
Speak up – break that climate silence!
Talk to the people you know about climate change and why it’s important to you. If we’re not talking about it, people don’t care. If people don’t care, we’ll never take action.
Get the right people to represent us in government.
How? Vote for climate champions. And do what you can to help them win.
Hold your existing representatives accountable.
Push for climate policies that are in line with what the science demands, not what is “politically feasible”. Bills for carbon pricing and initiatives like the Green New Deal are excellent. (remember we need to cut global emissions in half by 2030 and be net zero by 2050)
Collaborate. Organize with others. Join a movement!
Work with others to bring about real change. Whether it be in your community, company, or country, you have a better chance of making systemic changes when you join forces with other people. As Bill McKibben said, “Movements are, history would indicate, the one way we have of standing up to unjust, entrenched power.”
Now, maybe some of the things on this list are outside of your comfort zone. Maybe they seem “drastic” to you. Maybe you don’t have that much time to spare. Don’t worry, I felt like this at first too.
The thing is, these are drastic times.
Given our situation, it would be insane if we continued to stay in our comfort zones and endorse the status quo – because we’re facing the greatest crisis in human history. Because our future depends on making unprecedented changes to how society operates. Because our kids are counting on us.
And because we’re the last people with a chance to do anything about it.
Reversing global warming won’t be easy. To do it, we need to start telling a new story. We need to reimagine our future world. We need to start telling the story of how climate solutions make our lives better – how we can improve our health, safety, the economy, and address inequality all at the same time.
But change ultimately starts with each one of us. You and me. It starts with thinking differently about where we are, where we want to go, and what we can do to help get there.
Instead of despair, we need hope.
Instead of fear, we need courage.
Instead of powerlessness, we need action.
That last one is particularly useful. Action is the antidote to your climate worries.
You are more powerful than you realize. And ultimately, only you can figure out the best course of action to take. It will be different for each of us depending on what we’re good at, who we know, and what we have.
It’s time to put it all to good use because there’s a lot we need to do. But, together we can get this done.
Keep the wise words of these leaders in mind and don’t forget – when it comes to climate change, it’s not game over.
It’s game on.
If you found this useful, please consider sharing it with friends.
Ryan Hagen writes to help reverse global warming and bring more sustainability into the world. He is the founder of Crowdsourcing Sustainability and writes an informative and uplifting sustainability newsletter. This post was originally featured in the newsletter.