Getting your mind around climate change is hard. Confronting it requires us to deal with the ways that coal, oil, and gas have shaped nearly every aspect of our world, from our built environments to our economic systems — even our ideologies and patterns of thought. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concrete actions each of us can take, right now. Here are 20 examples of things YOU can do (some details are US-specific).
1. Reorganize the mode of production so that surplus and capital is distributed equally throughout society, and workers have decision-making power over their labor.
2. Find out about fossil fuel projects being built or proposed in your neighborhood (most of which can be found in the records of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the Environmental Protection Agency) and mobilize your community against them. Read these excellent resources on how to start organizing your community and spread them far and wide.
3. Understand that while climate change affects us all, there are specific populations who are more vulnerable than others — these are low-income communities, communities of color, coastal communities and communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction. Find a frontline organization near you and offer to support their work. Ask them what kind of help they need and take direction from them.
4. Lay off the policeman, the commodities trader, the real estate agent and the speculator in your head.
6. After you’ve read about the crisis, let yourself feel grief. Don’t ignore your feelings, either through resignation or through forced optimism. Feel what you feel.
7. Talk about your feelings with your family and friends. Talk about what matters to you, about what the climate crisis threatens in your life. And when they are ready, talk with them about taking action. You will learn things that you didn’t know about your loved ones, and you will discover allies in unexpected places.
8. Find out if your local politicians have ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Call out any politician that participates in or is a member of groups designed to give corporations the power to write the law.
9. Become an active voice in your community, writing letters to the editor in local papers and building an internet presence to spread information.
10. Do not fall into the trap of feeling contempt for your fellow human. These feelings are guaranteed to undercut your work. If you encounter resistance, consider carefully where that resistance comes from. Radical empathy is not only good for the soul, it will actually make you a more effective activist.
11. Look in the mirror. Do you see someone with job security? Someone who is in a position of privilege within your society? Think about how you can use this privilege to destroy the systems that created it — for instance, you may have less to lose than others by getting arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.
13. Build resilience — support spaces that are growing food, going off-the-grid, or supplanting the capitalist state in providing for our basic human needs. If you are able to do so, consider building these spaces yourself.
14. Don’t blame the poor — don’t blame the worker whose industry job is the only job he could get, don’t blame the woman who buys carbon-intensive food for her family because that’s all that her budget and her neighborhood has to offer, don’t blame the big family in the developing world that doesn’t have access to family planning. The poor are not the problem. If you need to blame anyone, blame the ruling class that controls the options available to poor people in the US and around the world, and whose policies, consumption habits and ideology are far, far more responsible for the crisis.
15. Again — don’t blame the poor. Seriously.
16. Walk by yourself at night under the dark sky. Recognize that you only have one life, that you have more power than you realize, and that there is a grace and a joy that comes from using that power for something bigger than yourself.
17. Recognize that the climate crisis is complicated — no one person is going to solve it by themselves, and any “list” that suggests as much is probably lying, or at the very least advancing an individual-based value system that sounds suspiciously like advertising.
18. Go ahead and make changes to your consumption habits. But also remember that no slave was ever freed by individuals choosing to purchase products that are free from slave labor.
19. Truly addressing the crisis will require building people power on a scale that the world has never seen before.
20. Build that power. I wish you so much more than luck.
Patrick Robbins is a writer, researcher and activist based in Brooklyn. He is currently working with Sane Energy Project toward the goal of an entirely renewable New York, and was an active member of Occupy The Pipeline from 2012 to 2014.