I just read another op-ed about how to help the climate crisis by cutting my own carbon footprint. If I ride my bike, stop eating meat, throw a few solar panels on my roof and hang my laundry out to dry, we can fix this problem.
Unfortunately, while worthwhile, personal effort isn’t moving the needle quickly enough. If it did, Australia wouldn’t be going up in flames as we speak.
This narrative appeals because it’s the familiar Judeo-Christian one — sacrifice your comforts and you will be saved. Unfortunately, the climate crisis isn’t about saving you, or me, it’s about saving us. It’s about saving the planet that we all share.
The confusion is that we individuals also are consumers. We consume all things carbon-emitting: We drive cars, eat meat and burn the midnight oil, also known as light bulbs. We travel for business — flying long distances in huge, stinky, carbon-and-otherwise polluting airplanes. We travel for pleasure, to unspoiled sandy beaches in the Caribbean and glorious glacier-capped peaks in Nepal, enjoying the wonders of the earth while simultaneously, albeit guiltily, making these places a little less wonderful by emitting more than “our share” of carbon.
It’s easy to blame your travel or my fancy house. But sacrifice and guilt just pit citizen against citizen. There’s no upward movement toward solution. That stuff drives us apart and the climate just gets worse.
Shouldn’t we focus our efforts on the biggest actor? The one that encompasses us all? That would be our government.
Our government — the one we pay taxes to — is fully engaged in prolonging carbon pollution. Our government gives tax breaks, credits and subsidies to expand fossil fuel exploration, drilling, pipelines and exports. The very businesses that are making money in creating this climate crisis.
Do you ever wonder why, in 2020, it’s taking us so long to transition to fossil-free solutions? We’ve known about climate change since the ’80s. For example, why do we only have a few electric vehicle options, mostly with batteries that don’t allow you to drive more than 150-250 miles without re-charging? It’s not because storage batteries are so unbelievably complicated. OK, they are, but so was going to the moon. Once the U.S. government got behind that idea, with lots of money, an American was on the moon in eight years.
We’re not healing the climate crisis (or avoiding it) because our government isn’t investing in it. And it’s not investing in it because we aren’t asking for it.
So, throw your laundry in that dryer and spend the extra time demanding our government gets off fossil fuels. Don’t know who to call? Your local nonprofits certainly do. Join one and find out where you can help.
Or donate. Of all the philanthropy in this country, only about 2% goes to address the climate crisis. Most nonprofits need more support to expand their reach.
Here are a few of our favorites and the most effective:
Wilderness Workshop actively protects our public lands and wildlife from overdevelopment — of all kinds, but particularly the fossil-fuel kind. They offer opportunities to write letters, attend public meetings and much in-between.
The Sierra Club: Made up of 64 chapters across the nation, their 4 million strong grassroots army protests pipeline expansions, protects public lands, litigates when needed, and successfully pressures utilities to replace coal with cheaper renewable energy. When coal plants are retired, they make sure there are funds to help fossil fuel workers transition to new jobs. Volunteer or donate.
Western Resource Advocates works directly with utilities to teach them how they can retire coal, reduce carbon and still make money. They help craft state policies in our western states — Colorado, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming — that encourage utilities to move into the modern carbon-free era.
Conservation Colorado successfully lobbies our state government to create laws that protect your health, your air, water, lands and, of course, our climate. With their work, we have increased our state’s renewable standards so that we can tackle this climate issue on a larger scale.
Your money is your voice. Write a check that is meaningful and manageable for you and your family. Ask your friends and contacts to join you. Donate and call, because your voice is money, too.
When your grandkids ask what you did to stop the climate crisis, you will be able to tell them you spoke up, loud and clear.
Jill Soffer is a local philanthropist focusing on climate and democracy issues. Through Our Part, the foundation she founded with Rebecca Mirsky, she expands her investments by engaging peers with initiatives they find to be especially effective. Our Part does not solicit or accept funding for its work.