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A Better Way Than Climate Paralysis (Actually, 5 Ways)

It’s summer in the U.S. and Canada. Besides the long days and fresh local food, summer is increasingly associated with “danger season.” As in years past, stories of wildfires, heatwaves, and deaths due to these and other extreme weather events around the world frequently make headlines. A growing percentage of us have experienced these events firsthand. And they are connected to a larger story of change that is difficult to face. This year especially, they painfully remind us how governments are allowing harm to compound by not taking adequate action to address climate change, as of this writing, and continue to support the business-as-usual path of burning fossil fuels for energy—the leading cause of planetary heating.

A world increasingly under climate chaos can weigh heavy on any of us. Those of us who are all-too-aware of injustices around the world, can easily succumb to a sense of powerlessness, or paralysis, or continue patterns of avoidance or bystanderism. It must be said that attending to our emotions is an important part of a healthy response to injustice. But these stress responses can easily become chronic, keeping us disengaged and stuck, not manifesting a “spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind” which God gives. These responses do not ultimately lead us to heal and protect the creation God loves. 

And yet healing and protection is precisely what we’re called to offer—including to the people on the frontlines of danger, and the animals, plants, other beings who, with us, make up the community of creation (Randy Woodley’s alternative phrase for “kingdom of God”). And there is so much we can yet heal and protect.

So let’s leave aside the question of massive trends and scary events and political gridlock for now. Let’s take up instead the question of how you and I can be helpful in this era

I have five suggestions to offer. The options are truly limitless, based on who you are, what you’re good at, and what brings you joy. But these five are basic: any of us can do them, they often lead us to more positive action, and they can be contagious to others. 

Wherever you’re coming from on climate issues — whether you’re alarmed by the state of things, or concerned, or cautious, or even disengaged — these are five areas in which you can take steps for your neighbors and all of creation, starting today. 

1. Learn about solutions.

Being vaguely aware of scary headlines and systemic failures is not the same as being informed about exact causes of the climate crisis and the many exciting solutions that exist and are ready to be deployed. Taking the time to learn breaks through the powerlessness and disengagement which threatens our well-being and keeps us helpless. Of course, there are contested ideas about solutions, as well as straight-up disinformation floating around, so let’s consider our sources carefully. One excellent place to start is to watch Project Drawdown’s Climate Solutions 101 course; a free, short, high-quality video series from a leading solutions research organization. Or check out this feed of Good News. If books or podcasts are more your thing, there have never been more quality resources on these topics than now. Jump in. Bring your curiosity. And prepare to share what you’ve learned — this benefits those around us, and it also helps solidify our learning. Think of learning about climate solutions as basic knowledge for life and neighbor-love in the 21st century. It is. 

2. Connect with a group taking action.

Whatever your interest or community, now there is pretty much always a group that represents it and is active on environmental protection (or there could be, if you want!). I’m hardly exaggerating. Joining a group provides the benefits of social interaction. There are also several excellent national or international organizations where you can volunteer, depending on your preferred approach. But perhaps most powerful is finding a group—or starting one, if needed—working on issues near where you live. Start by spending five minutes searching if your city, town, or municipality has climate or sustainability or energy efficiency or decarbonization or environmental justice or resilience plans. (If not, call your electeds to ask why not.) Then spend another five minutes searching which groups are active locally on these issues. Most likely people are already working on this and welcome new folks! Taking action as part of a collective is not only more effective, it expands our network and perspectives much more than going it alone. 

3. Slow down the metabolism of your material life.

In our cultures today—at least in the Global North—we receive promptings all the time to speed up, to do more, fit more in, take more things and opportunities. Wonderful benefits are available through a faster lifestyle, but it comes with consequences too—for one, busyness doesn’t always make us happier and can stem from a consumptive mindset. But even more so, a fast life metabolism—at least, as society is currently structured—is often a high-waste, carbon-intensive life metabolism. Examples abound when it comes to eating (think fast food compared to slow), mobility (cars compared to e-bikes or mass transit), and fashion (fast fashion compared fewer, better-made things). Food, transportation, and clothing are each significant sources of emissions, but they do not need to be as clean energy and innovative materials become more available and culture shifts. But for now, abundance can be found in doing fewer things well, prioritizing relationships over things, and choosing our material things carefully. 

Yes, this is a ‘carbon footprint’ kind of action, which many reflexively associate with guilt or deprivation (and for good reason: the carbon footprint is an invention of the fossil fuel industry to guilt individuals and distract from its sins; which is why I find one’s ‘carbon shadow’ to be a more helpful concept). Guilt not the goal here. The goal is to think more about what makes for a fulfilling life. And often, high consumption does not, in addition to being less in balance with the constraints of the living world (as we have just passed Earth Overshoot Day for 2022). Again, there are so many solutions that enable abundant living without wanton waste. 

4. Adopt clean energy where and when you can.

There is a massive energy transition underway, and it’s a matter of time until the power we rely on to heat and cool our home, cook our food, and move us around will be abundant and cheap clean energy. This is welcome, since powering our economies through fossil fuels brings widespread, needless death and illness.The problem is that due to how long leaders have delayed this transition and how much heating has occurred in the meantime, this transition needs to happen at enormous scale and with great haste without leaving behind society’s most vulnerable and low-income members. It’s a massive undertaking. A big part of this, which market forces will eventually accelerate, is to convert everything currently powered by gas to electricity. 

We can support this conversion right now through our purchasing power: we can prepare to replace any of our home’s gas-run appliances with electric ones once they break. Electric appliances like heat pumps and induction stoves are becoming more amazing all the time, and these are easy (and increasingly affordable) swaps to improve your family’s indoor air quality and health as well as care for creation. Do your homework in advance so that when it comes time to make the switch, you are ready to do your part to make the current generation of gas appliances the last generation. (This home electrification guide from Rewiring America is a great resource.) If you’re not in a place to do so yourself, discuss replacing gas appliances with electric in your circles of influence—friends, family, churches, and workplaces. 

5. Prepare for extreme weather.

Even if the entire world were to begin dropping emissions quickly and immediately starting today, we will still be in for some rough weather events over the course of our lifetimes. Some places will see worse than others, but no place is or will be untouched by the effects of climate change. So time preparing for extreme weather is time well spent. This sounds more on the adaptation side than the prevention side of climate action, but both have the same objective: caring for others, especially those most vulnerable. 

Preparing for extreme weather is the work of community. Some of the biggest things we can do include understanding the specific risks associated with our locales, advocating for climate resilient municipal infrastructure, building community with our neighbors, and making understanding who in your community is especially vulnerable in a weather event and who has what supplies to help the community. (This recent article has some further advice and resources.) Though it’s wise to prepare supplies for a disaster, it’s just as important to focus on getting to know and talking with others about the risks and resources that exist in your community. 

This list can easily go on. There are many other actions that are worth taking that may suit your skills and interests even better. The Climate Witness Project is a helpful source for further steps!

Whether you have seen umpteen versions of this kind of list, or this is the first time you’ve considered personally taking action on climate, you are important to the work of doing climate justice. Wherever we are on our journeys, it’s never too late to take steps to serve a hurting creation. 

It feels good to do right by the living world and act in hopeful ways. 

It’s clear that systemic and policy changes are needed, with the scale of the crises we’re facing. I’m not suggesting these individual actions are sufficient to heal and protect creation in and of themselves. But what they have in common is they are generative. Each of these actions, or others like them, have real benefits for the do-ers: they leave us feeling better than if we’d done nothing, better equipped to take action in the future (since positive action often begets more action), and ready to share the effects with others. They can be a means of caring for our own well-being, which is a part of creation worth caring for like all the rest of it! Many have been hesitant to make climate an area of active engagement because they worry about how much they will have to sacrifice. But truthfully, there is so much more to gain. It feels good to do right by the living world and act in hopeful ways

In these five actions or any others, I encourage all of us to keep prioritizing joy. As we take action for a life giving future, let’s cultivate joy and share it with others. As long as there is a call for us to do justice, keeping up one another’s joy will remain a critical part of the work—in whatever season we find ourselves.

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