“Act” is not a strategy

It seems like the tough think with climate change isn’t to convince people, it’s to engage them. Bill McKibben’s excellent cheese fry metaphor frames climate change as a choice. Either we can not act, or we can act. Either we can keep eating cheese fries, or we can pay attention to the extremely urgent warnings of our doctor and change our lifestyle. These arguments are effective for getting the point across, but as several people have pointed out they kind of leave you in a lurch. “Act” isn’t a strategy. Go looking for strategies, and it’s easy to get deluged. The ones that bubble to the top tend to be about individual impact (CFLs), donations (carbon offsets and NGOs) and activism (rallies and petitions.) These three are great, but by themselves they aren’t enough, and so long as people screw in CFLs, buy carbon credits and sign email petitions primarily out of guilt and fear their actions will be hard to build over the long term.

In order to build and maintain widespread change, people have to feel empowered. They have to feel that they are contributing something that is substantial and unique, they have to feel like their contribution is supported and respected. Fortunately there are plenty of substantial and unique niches to fill. “Fighting climate change” isn’t a single action, nor is it a short laundry list of CFLs, carbon credits and email lists. There is an entire economy’s worth of things to do, and most of them haven’t been thought up yet. Shoemakers need to figure out a new approach to shoemaking, dad’s need to figure out a new approach to raising daughters and DMVs need to find a new approach to driver’s licenses. I loved the PCAP article because it began to flesh out this economy, addressing the everyone from the insurance sector to city and county governments. It seems like one of the most important actions that people can take is envisioning their place in this new economy and talking about it with their coworkers, family and friends. 

We don’t just need a targeted message, we need targeted engagement. How can we get greasy spoon diner owners to start thinking about energy efficient deep fat friers and locally produced lard? How can we get them to feel like their friends, family and coworkers respect them for doing it? How can we get them to think up new solutions that us non-diner-owners never could and share them?

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