The world just had its hottest day in recorded history due to a combination of the El Niño weather event and ongoing carbon dioxide emissions. As climate change accelerates, it can feel overwhelming. It can feel as if there’s nothing that we, as individuals, can do about it.
The irony of this feeling is that fossil fuel companies spent millions to promote the idea of individual responsibility. The largely false notion of plastic recycling, for instance, has helped the fossil fuel industry avoid single use plastic bans for decades. (Most plastic is made from fossils.) Starting in the 1970’s ExxonMobil cast doubt on the science of climate change, but then later shifted to misleading the public into thinking that individual actions are the best way to address it.
Now, as periods of extreme heat and smoky skies become more prolonged all over the world, the undeniable hugeness of climate change is becoming more apparent. The futility of a carpool or a canvas tote bag to address record-shattering heatwaves and wildfire seasons feels more glaringly obvious. The need to shift to a post-carbon economy feels more urgent.
So, what, if anything can individuals do? A lot of people believe that change comes from the top down—handed from government and other powerful institutions down to the people—but in reality, it’s actually the opposite. A surprising number of people in power take their cues from what’s already happening in business, culture, and local communities.
This is why it matters so much when even one large company makes a meaningful change related to climate, even one innovative new state-level climate bill gets passed, or a small group of young people stands up to the massive fossil fuel industry.
That’s why, as individuals, the most powerful and important thing we can do to fight climate change is to demand that those with true institutional power address the problem. Here are some ideas for doing that:
Figure out who represents you at the federal, state, and local levels and tell them you want more regulation of the fossil fuel industry and other high emission industries as well as more support for the transition to the post carbon economy
With the first ever attempt to track nations’ progress on the Paris Agreement goals happening at the end of 2023, it’s also the perfect time to make demands of world leaders. Make it clear that they have your support to expand their climate commitments
Use the UNFK database to reach out to big powerful companies and demand to know why so many of them—especially those are known for their ambitious environmental initiatives like Microsoft and Google—still belong to industry trade groups that aggressively lobby Congress against strong environmental policies.
When individual people make it clear to those with institutional power that the status quo is no longer acceptable, that’s when real change starts to happen.