When my son was born, I felt a new responsibility to make his world better, so I committed to recycling regularly. I also changed out a few light bulbs and planted a garden. Then, three years ago, I picked up Naomi Klein’s climate change masterpiece, “This Changes Everything.” And for the first time, I felt that no matter what I did on my own, it could never be enough.
I am not alone. Yale Climate Communications recent survey headlines “Americans are more worried about global warming, and show signs of losing hope.” Awareness is growing as more than six in 10 adults said they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about it, whereas fewer than half did in 2010.
The American Psychiatric Association reports “Research indicates that extreme weather events such as large storms, flooding, droughts and heat waves are likely to become more frequent or more intense with climate change. Experiencing disasters related to climate and weather can cause significant stress and distress for many and contribute to more serious mental health issues.”
What is the best antidote to feeling powerless about anything? Start doing something. Here are the steps I took to begin making a difference and being able to sleep at night.
1. Read, listen and understand. Become climate change literate. What is it exactly and how does it work? There is a wealth of information out there. One of the best sites is citizensclimatelobby.org. These people know how to make a complex issue understandable. Now, make it personal. How is climate change affecting your region (agriculture, tourism, transportation, energy, economy). How does it affect your areas of interest (fly fishing, mountain biking, wildlife diversity, or skiing)? What do future forecasts and modeling predict for your area? Brace yourself; a bit of mental fortitude is helpful here for the somber news.
2. Get involved using your special superpower! (You know you have one.) Given your unique talents, networks and skill-set, how can you contribute/advance climate change solutions? You might consider personal, community or national actions. Are you good at art, organizing, writing, teaching, researching or communication? This process may be an evolving path. Some individuals work best on their own, while others want the support and direction of an existing organization. Great organizations include: Citizens Climate Lobby, 350.org, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and Climate Reality Project.
3. Foster resilience. We’re in this for the long haul. My first big effort was to organize a community event to educate people about our food system as it relates to climate change with a documentary called “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story.” Let’s just say it was not well-attended, but I learned valuable lessons I used for my next event, and my next. Samuel Beckett, the great Irish playwright said it best: “Ever tried? Every failed? No matter. Fail again. Fail better.” Because every time you do, you’re moving us all forward.
My favorite climate change books include, “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming,” Paul Hawken; “Laudato Si: Encyclical on the Environment and Human Ecology,” Pope Francis; “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs Climate,” Naomi Klein; “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?,” Bill McKibben; “Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution,” Peter Kalmus; “Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity,” James Hansen; “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond; “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” by Michael E. Mann.
Good film documentaries on the subject include, “Chasing Ice,” “Chasing Corral,” “Years of Living Dangerously,” “Racing Extinction,” “Merchants of Doubt,” “Time to Choose,” “Tomorrow,” “Paris to Pittsburgh,” “Before the Flood,” “From the Ashes,” and “An Inconvenient Sequel.”
Susan Atkinson, Durango, Colo., is a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby.