(Click here to read an introduction and Part 1 of this three-part series on coping with climate change.)
When I’m out speaking about climate change, I commonly get asked a certain question that goes something like this: “My neighbor/family member/friend is a climate change denier or drives a giant gas guzzler or gets emotional and angry when I bring up the topic of climate change. How do I convince him/her to change their beliefs or their behavior?”
Believe me, I understand how frustrating it is to look at someone else’s behavior and want them to change, but the power to make a difference starts with you.
A few weeks ago, I began blogging about three action steps that I’ve come up with to help you connect with planet Earth and stay strong while facing the reality of climate change. You can read the first installment, which is about nourishing your relationship with nature every day. The second action step (thanks for waiting) is to take responsibility for what you can control.
This action step goes beyond mere lip service to climate issues. It’s about walking the walk and actually practicing what you already know, which means it’s going to be the most difficult step.
It's all about you
Everyone has reasons we don’t do more; we’re all busy, we’re all working. Maybe your thoughts get in your way (“I can’t do this 'cause it’s gonna be hard," "I’ll have to study something," "I’ll have to pay somebody”), but taking action is easier than you think. All of us know plenty of ways to decrease our environmental impact: conserve electricity, walk more often, purchase fewer energy-intensive products. See what I mean? You’ve heard these already, but actually doing these things is another matter. What do you have control over now? What can you take responsibility for now? Start by doing one thing. You have a finger; you can turn off the light.
If you believe that turning off the lights is small, you’re right, it is small. But all those small things add up. If you have an inner critic that’s telling you that one person isn’t going to make a difference, that one person isn’t enough, then you’re wrong. Take responsibility by doing. Take responsibility for whatever you can. And get satisfaction from lessening your contribution to climate change.
Stop reading this blog for a moment and think about the resources you’ve used today. Practically everything we touch in our daily lives has a carbon footprint, an amount of carbon dioxide pollution associated with its manufacture, transportation and disposal. Taking responsibility for what you can control starts with knowing, as best as you can, your carbon footprint. You can estimate it with an online carbon footprint calculator. Take carbon emissions into account when making purchases so you can decide if the extra emissions are worth it; sometimes they will be and sometimes they won’t. Understanding the impact of our behavior gives us the opportunity to be more thoughtful about the choices we make.
Ask: What can I control?
I tried the following activity with my students; maybe you’d like to try it, too: Calculate your carbon footprint, try to reduce it for one week, and then write whatever you learned about the experience. Decide how you're going to reduce your emissions and by how much. There are as many ways to reduce your carbon footprint as there are people, so taking responsibility for what you can control means you are empowered to do whatever you want. I had solar panels installed and did the activity with my class.
Remember: This action step is about whatever it is that you can control. I own a house and had the means to control what goes on my roof (solar panels), which is what I took responsibility for. If you aren’t in a position to do this today, then you can’t control that; but you do have control over something and that’s what you can start doing today.
After the week was over, most students wanted to keep going, reducing their carbon footprint further and making the changes permanent. They found that it was easier than they had thought. Try it. Go ahead. Care for your own place, your own part of the world, even if you rent—wherever you live is yours.
You start with your place and later realize the whole planet is your neighborhood. If you ever stop to wonder if you can really make a difference, the answer is: “Yes, you can.”
As always, I look forward to your comments.