Your Individual Climate Actions Matter and this is Why

One action can lead to another.

Do your individual climate actions, mine, and everyone else’s matter? I strongly believe that they do—in more ways than you may think.

Yes, I have read many articles and blog posts followed social media threads and watched interviews of climate scientists and environmental experts declaring that our individual climate actions will not be enough to avert the worst of the climate crisis or to mitigate its effects.

Yet, here I am advocating for individual climate actions and averring that they do indeed matter.

“Is she in denial or just naively promoting wishful thinking?” are logical questions. Let me assure you that I do not inhabit a fantasy world or an alternate reality. However, I do reject the premise that what we do as individuals does not matter.

In this post, I will attempt to explain why I believe that our individual climate actions do matter. Perhaps my reasoning will resonate with you or perhaps not.

We Need Massive Structural and Social Change

Climate experts and many others keep repeating the mantra that the climate crisis requires massive structural and social change. Our energy, transportation, food, water, land use, justice, and economic systems—our very way of life—needs to be completely transformed if we (meaning people) are going to continue to be able to live on Earth now and in the future.

This is an undertaking like no other that has ever occurred in human history. It is going to take all of us changing our own lives and demanding that corporations and governments act like there is a climate crisis because there is one.

Who do you think is going to get that done?

It is going to be people, individual people. After all, it is individuals who make up families, neighborhoods, cities, corporations, nonprofit organizations, government bodies, and international climate movements.

You, I, and everyone else are the individuals that can collectively change the world. Our children, their children, and all the non-humans with which we share the planet are counting on us.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Barack Obama

That brings us back to individual climate actions and why they matter.

Action Begets Action

When faced with a mind-bogglingly complex and seemingly insurmountable situation, like the climate crisis, some people immediately step up and take action. I am humbled by and grateful to these people. But that does not describe me and maybe not you either.

Many, if not most people will feel overwhelmed. You are just one person. What could you possibly do that would make any positive difference? You may feel powerless and afraid. Freezing like a deer in the headlights you do nothing. You are in a state of inertia indisposed to motion, exertion, or change.

“Well, duh.” you may be thinking. “But, how am I supposed to get over feeling overwhelmed, powerless, and afraid?”

Do something, anything, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.

Taking action breaks the cycle of inertia. It gives you a sense of accomplishment. A feeling like you can do something. One action can lead to another which leads to another and so on.

Lois Gibbs in Her Kitchen with Her Kids in 1978
Lois Gibbs with her kids in her kitchen making calls about the Love Canal toxic waste dump – photo Center for Health, Environment & Justice.

Then one day you will realize that you are one of the millions of other climate activists around the world who are all striving to live more lightly on Earth and in harmony with all the other living beings that share the planet.

Are you wondering what action you should take to get started? It is up to you. Consider choosing something that you actually want to do and that you feel confident you can accomplish. You can work on the harder stuff later.

Ideas and inspiration can come from almost anywhere. Talk with your family, friends, and coworkers, watch a film, go for walk, read a book, check out social media, attend an event, or read blogs posts here on Green Groundswell.

I am not suggesting that I am a paragon of anything or that I am a model climate activist. But I do know that my own journey began when I purchased a reusable water bottle and filled it up with water from my kitchen sink faucet.

Naysayers will suggest that we cannot wait for each person to find their inner climate activist. The thing is you cannot force another person to change. The only person that can change you is you.  

Water Drops and Ripples

Water Drop Creating a Ripple
Photo – Shutterstock/science photo

Let us say that you switch to reusable shopping bags, plant a pollinator-friendly garden, or install solar panels. Patting yourself on the back you feel that you have done your bit for the climate movement.

Is that enough?

Chances are that whatever climate actions you are doing, there are millions of other people around the world doing the same thing where they live and millions of other people are doing different climate actions.

Just as tiny drops of water will fill up a bucket all these actions add up to a significant positive impact.

Another benefit of taking action is that you are setting an example for other people that action is empowering. Your action could start a ripple of other actions.

Will incremental climate actions be enough to stave off the climate crisis? I do not think so.

However, as long as you, me, and everyone else is engaged in climate action at any level there is always the possibility that we will move beyond our comfort levels and do what is necessary to transform our society.

I will look for you along the journey.

Featured Image at Top: Newton’s Cradle perpetual motion device with one blue sphere – photo credit iStock/26ISO.

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Coastal Cleanup Day – Why it Matters

If not you, who?

Volunteering to pick up trash during Coastal Cleanup Day will give you a sense of accomplishment and perhaps motivate you to take further action.

Coastal Cleanup Day is coming up next week on Saturday, September 21. Millions of people will be joined together by a common mission—picking up trash—making their small part of the world cleaner, safer, and more beautiful for themselves and everyone else. You could be one of them.

This worldwide day of action will be taking place on thousands of miles of coastline as well as the banks of creeks, streams, and lakes, and even at a few parks. Chances are you can find an opportunity to participate in your own community or nearby.

Taking part in Coastal Cleanup Day is an ideal activity for first-time volunteers because generally all you need to do is slather on sunscreen, fill up your reusable water bottle, and show up. Many, if not most sites, will provide equipment like grabbers and buckets. Then after picking up trash for a few hours, you are free to hang out on your local beach, hike along a cherished stream, or take pleasure in a lakeside picnic lunch.

Bring your kids or grandkids along to this family-friendly event giving them a chance to help do something worthwhile, engage in some citizen science, and have fun with you outdoors.

During Coastal Cleanup Day, you will be acting as a citizen scientist recording the type of trash you are picking up or sorting and categorizing it afterward. This data is useful for understanding the volume and makeup of trash so that we can collectively work on solutions to reduce and hopefully eliminate trashing our oceans and waterways.

Consume consume that’s all we do
We take and take and don’t regret
We need to know what’s best at end
Our oceans are at risk today
Because of all the things we toss away.

Robert Becerra, Grade 1, La Puente (2017 California Coastal Commission Student Art & Poetry Contest)

Why Should You Pick Up Other People’s Trash?

Humans seem to be the only inhabitants on Earth who litter, meaning that we produce waste that is not used by another organism for food, habitat, or other purposes and that we leave it lying about wherever we go.

Of course, you and I do not litter. It is the other people who do. So, why should you and I pick up other people’s trash?

Well, er, because instead of just being ticked off about litter we can empower ourselves to do something about it. I cannot think of any downside to there being less trash on beaches, along creeks, or in the oceans.

Perhaps you are thinking “Well, duh, I don’t need you to tell me that I can pick up litter if I want to.” Maybe not, but it is possible that you see litter without really seeing it or recognizing that you can do something about it.

That is how it was for me before participating in Coastal Cleanup Day in 2017.

Spending several hours with my spouse picking up and collecting trash on a beach where we live on the Central California Coast left an impression on me. If you are interested, you can read about it the post entitled Coastal Cleanup Day – Picking up Litter is Empowering.

Now, I see litter as something I can positively impact through my own choices and by picking up litter and throwing it in a recycle bin or trash can.

On the Way to the Post Office

Over the Labor Day weekend, our small town held its annual 3-day Pinedorado festival.

That Sunday, at the Pinedorado, my spouse and I bought some raffle tickets, savored slices of olallieberry pie (mine had vanilla ice cream on top), and purchased a potted plant from the garden club. Locals and visitors alike seemed to be enjoying the balmy weather, games, music, food, and the car show.

4 Clusters of Balloons Picked Up as Litter

A few days later, I encountered remains of the weekend as I was walking from my house to the post office. Beneath a bush, I spotted a couple of deflated balloons tied together with a ribbon. They had been part of colorful columns marking the Saturday parade route, but apparently, some of them had escaped the cleanup crew.

I picked them up and resumed my walk carrying them in my free hand. Within a span of a few minutes, I discovered and picked up three more balloon clusters. When I reached the downtown area, I put the balloons in the first trash can I came across.

Did anyone see me picking up these balloons, carrying them down the street, and then putting them in the trash can? Maybe or maybe not. It does not matter. What matters is that there are fewer balloons floating around town that could have been ingested by a toddler, a pet, or the local wildlife.

You may be scoffing or rolling your eyes thinking “She picked up a few pieces of litter. Big deal.” The thing is you could do it, too. Imagine if everyone did. Picking up other people’s trash shows that you care about where you live, work, or visit.

Sign Up for Coastal Cleanup Day in Your Community

Volunteers at ECOSLO Coastal Cleanup Day in Morro Bay, CA
ECOSLO Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers in Morro Bay, CA on September 17, 2011 – photo credit Michael L. Baird.

Where I live in San Luis Obispo County, CA, a local nonprofit called ECOSLO organizes and runs our cleanup days. This year we are having a Creeks to Coast Cleanup Day with events taking place at beaches, creeks, and lakes across the county.

My spouse and I volunteered to pick up trash along the banks of Santa Margarita Lake. After we finish our stint as volunteer trash collectors, we will enjoy the rest of the afternoon paddling our kayaks around the lake. Community service mixed with fun. What could be better?

To find an event near where you live type “Coastal Cleanup Day” and the name of your town into your Internet web browser, sign up for a location that interests you, and then show up the day of the event.

No beach, creek, or lake to clean up where you live? No worries pick a street in your neighborhood, a parking lot at work, or a local school playground and pick up trash there.

You may be pleasantly surprised by how rewarding picking up trash can be.

Featured Image at Top: a Fish sculpture made with pieces of trash found on a beach – photo credit iStock/SolStock.

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