It’s March already! Storms have been rolling on through and bringing the snow with them. Getting out into the hills and riding fresh powder has been on the top of to-do lists – woop woop! Keep it up powder hounds!
Well done to all those who completed our first new year’s resolution micro challenge. To those who have started down the path of making permanent change to their commute according to our second resolution keep up the good work.
Here is our final, of three resolution, blogs – where we are going to talk about the most important thing you can do to make climate action work, to make your actions count as something greater than the sum of all parts. Ready? Let’s drop in!
You have probably been making changes in your life to become more climate friendly. You may also know that as well as personal actions we need systemic change.
So there are two things going on here, individual action, and working towards systemic change. How do we balance them?
System change is a powerful tool for transformation and carefully designed policies can reduce fossil fuel emissions and make the world a better place for everyone. This is something that we should all be fighting for as it is the only way to reach the scale of improvement we need. To achieve systemic change we need to campaign for a climate friendly system, and vote for leaders that will use the levers of power to change things for the better and prevent the climate emergency from getting even worse.
There is another piece to this puzzle. It is part of what we can do as an individual, but acts as a multiplier when it comes to systemic change. It is backed up by research here and here and it is pretty simple to do, but it does require a little bit of thinking on your part.
Right so, let’s start with an example.
Anna is a scientist that works on emissions from aviation. She appears at a public event to give a talk about how flying is bad for the climate. If the audience knows that Anna flew to give the presentation they start to think ‘well here is the expert and she is still flying, how bad can flying be’, or ‘is there really a climate emergency at all’.
Her message has less of an impact because her audience will consider her behaviour as part of the package.
This is the human reaction. This is just how people work.
If your behaviour does not line up with what you are advocating for, then it is difficult for other people to take your message seriously. You may have seen this levelled at Leonardo DiCaprio advocating action climate change but using private helicopters.
We are all imperfect advocates. However, that does exclude us from taking action on climate change. Don’t despair, there is an awesome takeaway to share from all this, demonstrated with another example.
Sam does not eat as much meat as she used to. She still eats meat but she is working towards not eating meat at all, with the focus on making a permanent change to her lifestyle because she knows the huge impact that eating meat has on the climate.
The catch is that sometimes when Sam talks to other people about eating less meat, it is hard not to be apologetic. She doesn’t want to shame anyone else and she is an imperfect advocate herself. It can be a difficult position to take a strong stance in. Although you have to admire those that are strong enough to do so!
However, there is something Sam can do, something that multiplies the benefits of her action rather than undermining it.
We may all be imperfect advocates – but we can all become better storytellers.
Start telling your story differently. Focus on the behaviour you have changed and why you have changed it.
Sam eats 70% less meat because she is trying to shrink her carbon footprint. If she can tell people her story and makes sure they know about the changes she has made, and that those efforts are made because she is worried about the climate emergency, people can take that message on board.
If you fly less or don’t fly at all anymore, don’t concentrate on the fact that you used to fly a lot, or might still use a car sometimes. Concentrate on the changes you have made to cut flying out of your life and the reasons that you are doing it – the climate emergency – and how it seems pretty normal to you to not fly anymore.
When you present the changes you have made in this way, people around you start to see that even though you are an imperfect advocate, you are still striving to make big changes, as an individual, and that those changes are doable.
It is a demonstration that it is possible to make these types of changes and have a lifestyle that is still pretty normal but has a radically smaller carbon footprint at the same time.
When you talk about what you are doing like this, it starts to make taking action look normal. When friends and family experience other people taking similar actions they start to think that this is the new normal and they start to take action too. They start making their own individual actions and putting pressure on our leaders to change the system as well.
People start to think that if Alice, Sam, Matt and Steve, who all seem quite normal – they haven’t gone off to live in a cave or stopped taking showers, heck they still go on snowboarding trips – are making changes because climate change really is a big deal then maybe they can too.
The more people hear other people talking about the changes they are making to be more climate friendly the more these changes start to become normal.
When big systematic changes come in, when our politicians start to listen to us about the importance of taking action on the climate emergency, we are going to need a different sort of leader.
Normal people making changes, that are good for the planet, that don’t inconvenience their lives, are these leaders.
When it comes, systemic change will seem big, intrusive and scary, all transitions can feel like this.
People that have been walking the climate friendly talk for years will be able offer reassurance and demonstrate that we can change, that some of us already have, and that both the climate and the individual are better for it.
Small talk can make a big difference. Be the imperfect advocate, walk the talk and share with others your reasons for this. Be the leader in your sphere of influence, show others how normal it can be to not fly, or eat meat, or taking your bike instead of the car. We need to focus on the positives and stop undermining all the fantastic efforts that we are making.
We still need leadership on climate action from those with the power to change the system but we have to remember that we have the power to win hearts and minds to #protectourwinters and we can #voteforsnow together.
Written by Róisín Moriarty, scientist, writer and snowboarder and POW UK’s Content Coordinator.