WE have the Power Now

It’s a new year, 2020, and it’s a time to understand that we, the public, are now more empowered than ever before in this climate emergency, despite how incredibly impotent we feel with the horrible devastation in Australia, which is experiencing catastrophic bushfires, extreme heat, and incredible wildlife mortality. With the loss of 30% of the Great Barrier Reef (NOAA). With the floods in Africa and Asia and North America. With the masses of people around us who don’t seem to care.  With corrupt politicians in power. 

Climate Steps member Jim, who lives in Canberra, Australia. Image used with his permission, Copyright Su Hanfling, 2019.

Before we talk about this empowerment, we all should acknowledge and especially mourn within ourselves and with others the devastation that is currently occurring in Australia, Indonesia, and elsewhere. Our hearts go out to everyone who is experiencing it and to the people, animals, and habitats caught in these catastrophes.

But we have awakened. Almost no matter who we mention climate change to, they know of it. They see it now. Some may fight the concept, but they are now thinking about it and are being forced to make those mental connections (Yale study, 2019). Occasionally, people you randomly meet will even raise it first, without you mentioning it to them.*

*Ann Patterson, one of our CS members, just had a car dealer raise his worry about the issue with her while she was looking at electric vehicles – without hints by her; my Dad’s ranching partner, Micah, just mentioned to me how warm it is in December now, and then compared it the weather decades ago and how the climate is changing.

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

A rapidly growing subset of us are angry, driven, fed up, fired up, and motivated to step in to fix what governments and industry are too cautiously, reluctantly, approaching. We range from the Youth Climate Movement to Raging Grannies. From every country and ethnicity, individuals are wanting to take action even more than before and are seeking ways to do so. Our own growth curve in Climate Steps illustrates this:

Next key point: Scientists are compiling data and information on actionsNot just about the danger, which has been a growing, solid body of evidence online, but about what to do to fix this problem.  Drs. Wynes and Nicholas did a study in 2017 about personal actions that would be most impactful:

Wynes and Nicholas, 2017.

After publishing a book, also in 2017, Project Drawdown scientists formed a permanent organization that studies the global life cycles of the causes of emissions and rates which emission sources need to be worked on at first. 

Scientists such as Drs. Michael Mann, Kate Marvel, Peter Kalmus, and Katherine Hayhoe (and myself and others) are breaking down barriers and becoming active speakers about the danger and how to fight it. Katherine Hayhoe especially has a very constructive, action-oriented outlook.

Katherine Hayhoe’s philosophy is that you should look for three positive articles for each awful one you have to read so you can remember that people really are trying, despite the odds. It is important to actively work to sustain hope because despair leads to inaction.

Climate Steps is compiling information on the many ways we can take action. Also, some of us here in the CS community have been volunteering to build not only the app part of a new “Earth Hero” app, which is about actions and their climate impact, but also to develop the calculations behind it. The beta version of Earth Hero will be released this month (to be announced on the Climate Steps Facebook page.) These and other resources are going beyond what was available before. These don’t just lightheartedly mention that one should recycle or change a lightbulb. This is serious information. And it gives us hope (REF.)

Extinction Rebellion Symbol. Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

A subset of us (scientists and the public) are further growing communities of action.  Civic action began in communities a while ago (examples from the U.S.), but has grown dramatically, with more people becoming more involved.  The Climate Reality Project, founded by Al Gore, trains thousands of Climate Reality Leaders each year, building in numbers since 2006. Those Climate Reality Leaders are now training others through presentations and by forming local action groups within their communities. Climate Steps as a whole will be codified into a nonprofit this year to help formally focus on growth of the information and the community. Extinction Rebellion, and the Sunrise Movement are loose networks that focus on local to regional action for volunteers to attend. The Sunrise Movement (focuses on youth strikes) and the Extinction Rebellion (protests and non-violent disobedience) began in 2017 and late 2018, respectively, but have hit meteoric growth. The Sunrise Movement, for instance, now includes 15,000 members in 200 hubs across the country (REF, REF2).

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

We have created change in businesses and government.  Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg is a powerhouse who has led marches that have caused support to change for political parties and policies (REF, REF2), and so have others, including eight-year-old Licypriya Kangujam, who lives in India. A young girl in Miami wrote a letter, causing the city to require solar panels (REF.)  Shoppers at Trader Joe’s, a grocery store chain in the U.S., led a letter writing campaign that led to a complete overhaul of the grocery’s stance on plastic-packaged foods (REF). Critically, public comments on a regulation have been shown to change the tone and substance of the regulation (REF; Examples of How to write). Individuals are suing the governments around the world (REF summarizing lawsuits), with change happening even because of the press around the process, as happened in Florida (again), where a couple fought to keep a front-yard vegetable garden.

“Youth in Colombia succeeded in convincing the nation’s high court (pdf, in Spanish) to reverse a February decision denying their climate change lawsuit against the government. The Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia ruled in favor of the youth plaintiffs, who argued that deforestation in the Amazon and increasing temperature threatened their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to a healthy environment, life, health, food and water. Notably, the high court also found that the Colombian Amazon forest has legal personhood and that, as such, the government has a duty to protect the forest.” https://qz.com/1334102/kids-around-the-world-are-suing-governments-over-climate-change-and-its-working/.

We as individuals and communities have the data/information now to take action in multiple, prioritized ways – and are. Volunteer opportunities are exploding, including through organizations such as the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change, Australian Aid – Climate Change, 350.org, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the Boston Climate Corps, Climate Parents through the Sierra Club, Community Carbon Trees Costa Rica, Mom’s Clean Air Force, SciStarter, Voces Verdes, and so many more. As one example, tree-planting is increasing as people are helping volunteer for government and other organized tree-planting events (REF; though not all tree-planting works or is good for the environment – REF2). And some folks are just planting trees on their own (e.g., 50+ Climate Steps FB group members, with Kim having planted 3000 trees herself to fight climate change), in addition to many, many other actions, such as installing solar panels. Eco-friendly products such as solar have gone down in price and are now more accessible, which helps.

Finally, scientists and others are creating tools to help with action.  In my experience, up until the last few years, apps and websites have generally provided some simple steps for the general public. Now there are tools available to take the scientific data and information and then do something with it! Resources such as those listed below are focused on really providing a means to help people grow into action.

  1. The U.S. Climate Resiliency Toolkit!  This is an incredible tool for showing people in the U.S. the impact that climate change will have on their region.  For instance, Dallas, Texas, will go from an average of ten 100 deg. Fahrenheit days/year to suffering from 40+ 100 deg. F days/year by 2040, unless. we. act. Being able to tell that to my parents’ neighbors brings it home.
  2. Games and quizzes are available that can be organized for, say, a community event, e.g.:
    1. The CNN Climate Change Solutions quiz is constructed with data from Project Drawdown.
    1. The Game of Extremes is now available for download. Form your groups and run through a scenario of how a community must adapt to the heat extremes and flooding due to climate change.
  3. Citizen science campaigns help us provide data for scientific research about sea level change and more (e.g., ISeeChange.org, Scistarter.org.)
  4. We have logic models/actions plan templates on Climate Steps to help plan out three months of actions.  One of our members, Cat, started creating Climate Action Maps, prior to joining CS, to help people set and visualize progress.  See their website at:  https://www.climateactionmaps.org/.  Cat and I hope to work together more in 2020 to help build complementary action tools.
  5. Templates and examples for letter writing and public commenting are available – such as via the https://publiccommentproject.org/.
  6. Apps – each with a different twist.
    1. Earth Hero, www.earthhero.org. Four of us are professional scientists, and all of our team of 23 work at the top of standards.
    2. EcoChallenge, working with Project Drawdown.
    3. Random Acts of Green, Joulebug, EcoCRED, and more…
Earth Hero, early design

This is just a sample, and we will be compiling more into the Climate Steps resources pages.

I have so much to learn myself about what is out there, and I look forward to that journey. Overall in the world, individuals at the grassroots levels now have the goals, energy, and tools – driven by a deep sense of what is right – to lead the way in lowering carbon emissions and creating governmental change, as well as to then mitigate carbon emission through sequestration and to help communities and wildlife survive and adapt.

My friend Alex, in Australia, says “we have become the burning pyre, a signal….Let not this sacrifice be in vain!”

WE, the people of the world, are gathering power and already are instigating change – we will achieve far more in 2020.

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