Especially now, at this critical stage, we have to accept we’re all going to have to buckle down for the long haul. Responding to this crisis is going to have to become part of who we are. All the time. Once you understand that, you understand that this isn’t about climate action at all. It’s about climate commitment. Climate action is recycling or going vegan. Climate commitment is bigger. It’s a framework. It’s asking yourself: What can I do next? And always next.
Then there’s that other alluring fallacy: the idea that if we do the right thing, we can put an end to this madness. That there’s a stop button somewhere.
As the climate scientist and brilliant writer Kate Marvel puts it, “Climate change isn’t a cliff we fall off, but a slope we slide down.” The climate has already changed, and so what’s been done, sadly, cannot be undone, at least not in the near future. But there’s real good to be done by not letting it get worse. Limiting the damage is good, noble—valorous even.
By now, you’re probably becoming either consciously or subconsciously aware of the heartbreaking truth at the core of the climate crisis: It’s so unfair. It is. That’s probably the simplest thing about climate change—the injustice. It’s apparent at the macro and micro scales. The parts of the world that contributed the least to the crisis will suffer first and worst. Mere children have been thrust into positions in which they have no choice but to fight for their lives, for their right to see the stable planet they were taught about in storybooks and science books but have never seen in real life.
No, it’s not fair.
But now that you’re aware of that truth, it’s crucial to remember one thing: It’s not enough to be right. The facts have been on our side for a very long time, but we’re still losing. Why? Because this isn’t a spelling bee or a standardized test. This is a fight for justice.
The climate crisis is, in more ways than I can count, the ultimate culmination of a centuries-long run of exploitation and extraction, including slavery and colonialism and all of their offshoots. Those horrors were all justified by some measure of pseudoscience that could have been—and was—easily disproved. But that wasn’t enough. So it is with the climate crisis.
The scientists and experts have studied the problem and the solutions and presented their findings ad nauseum. But it wasn’t enough. Because this isn’t just about science or facts. This is about power. And it’s going to take an army. That’s where you come in, new Climate Person.
I know it might not sound like it, but there’s a lot of good news in there. For one thing, you don’t have to do this all alone. In fact, you can’t. Because we’re talking climate commitment and not a single climate action, that means you don’t have to worry about nailing it. This is a practice, which does away with the need for perfection. The fact that every fraction of a degree of warming—Celsius or Fahrenheit—matters means that you’re never too late or too small to help.
The right time to start your climate commitment is always right now.
But the question remains. “What can I do?” Well, now that you understand that the question is complicated, the answer actually emerges as quite simple: Do what you’re good at. And do your best.
If you’re good at making noise, make all the noise you can. Go to climate strikes, call your representatives, organize your neighbors. Vote. Every chance you get. Join something bigger than yourself because this is so much bigger than any of us alone. It’s about all of us, together.
If you’re raising children (and they do not have to be your children—nieces, nephews, and play cousins all count!), teach them to love the Earth and to love each other, teach them the resilience that shows up as empathy. If you’re good at taking care of people, take care of the legions of weary climate warriors. If you’re a good cook, cook. Make it as sustainable as you can within your means, but more than anything, share it, build a community around it.