I hope everyone has seen the video of Greta Thunberg’s speech at the UN yesterday.
If you don’t know Greta’s story by now, you’ve been under a rock, and if you’re reading a blog, you probably don’t actually live under a rock, so I’m going to start with the assumption that you know who Greta is. If not, stop here, do some Google-ing, and return later.
The world Greta describes is pretty bleak. She is right to be angry. She is also right that change, the kind that will make numbers move, needs to happen on a global, governmental level. It involves dismantling entire economic systems based on oil and coal. It involves addressing disparities at every level. It involves the people in power changing the very system that brought them into power.
What is the use, then, of trying to recycle, bring a canvas tote bag to the grocery store, use less plastic, drive an electric car, install solar panels?
First, these small actions create buy-in, create a sense of being part of the solution, no matter how small and incremental. It bonds us together, so that we don’t see it as me-versus-climate change, but us-versus-climate change. Coming together over small things help big things happen. Last year, Greta was the only student to leave school on a Friday to protest inaction against climate change. This year, over four million people—mostly school-aged children—around the world joined her strike.
Second, these small actions require infrastructure and support that can drive changes to systems. An increased number of bike commuters and pedestrians and public-transit users on the road drives changes to street infrastructure to adapt to the burden. Using less plastic drives manufacturers to design alternatives so you keep buying their product.
There is another layer to some of these actions: communication. Letting businesses know you’re not buying their product because it comes wrapped in plastic (I’m looking at you, Trader Joe’s). Having conversations with local vendors about reducing waste.
And voting, the ultimate communication tool we have.
Yes, we’re all eagerly awaiting the next four-year election, which focuses on our national leaders.
But also look at your local elections. That’s where a lot of these changes start.
It’s the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who votes on public works projects. It’s the long list of city and state propositions on the ballot that allocate funding to projects. It’s the CA State legislature and governor who can create state rules that are more strict that federal, in order to cut carbon emissions—Los Angeles is no longer a bed of smog. California has cut greenhouse gas emissions from its electric power supply in half since 2008.
One last thing I’ll mention: there’s not going to be a way to make change without being a little bit uncomfortable. How much is up to you. It may not be too bad to throw a few totes in your car to use at the grocery store. Start there. It may make you uncomfortable to have a sixteen-year-old be angry at the United Nations. Ask yourself why instead of dismissing her (or worse, attacking her).
I don’t see it as hyperbole to say we’re looking at the end of the world as we know it. We can either drive that change to ensure future generations thrive, or we can dumbly be carried along with change and then wonder what happened.