Collective Action

Much of our other discussion of what you as an individual can do to reduce your impact has been to look at your own personal life, to improve how ‘green’ your lifestyle is. While this is critically important, it isn’t enough. The problems that we are facing are just too large for lone individuals to turn the tide, and we also need the actions of our governments, corporations, and other organizations. We need to demand that our society makes sure that there will be a healthy world to pass on to our descendants.

Governments are the holders of many of the keys to successful policy, they set the ‘rules of the game’ that shape the actions of all the individuals and businesses. They subsidize some types of actions, forbid others, regulate everything. All of these policies shape the decision making processes of others. For example, building codes set minimum requirements for how well buildings are built and insulated, and this in turn shapes how the building trades and consumers respond. In 2018, fossil fuels receive massive amounts of direct and indirect subsidies and currently no one (and therefore everyone) has to pay for the costs of the pollution that comes from burning them. This makes fossil fuels artificially cheap, and therefore people use much more of them than they should.

Businesses and corporations have direct control over enormous amounts of resource use, of commercial buildings, mines, factories, transportation, and more. Just like you as an individual can make changes that impact your own family’s sustainability, so too can larger organizations, and the effects that they can have are enormous. At Sunshine Saved, we have a 5 year plan to cut our emissions in half, and every organization could take their own steps along these lines to minimize their impacts. Businesses also produce the goods and services that we all use as consumers, and if they don’t provide these in a sustainable fashion it makes it much more difficult for each of us to lower our impacts as individuals.

What you can do

As both citizens and consumers, each of us can lend our time, energy, money and talents to influence government and industry. It can seem daunting, because we are each so small and the things that we are trying to influence are so big. And it isn’t easy, many of the campaigns that attempt to influence big organizations fail. However, for those that do, the payoffs are incredible. For instance, if you were to be a part a group that convinced the United States to put in place a comprehensive tax on carbon pollution, this would have positive impacts that would be many thousand times more than what those same people could do by changing their own personal behavior on housing, food, or transportation.

The easiest way to get involved is to find like-minded groups and to join them. You can volunteer your voice, funding or expertise to helping these groups with their missions. Some groups do political activism, some work with industry, some are large organizations in their own right and take direct action towards sustainability goals. There is strength in numbers, and it is through having your voice heard that you can help to change the trajectory of these large organizations.

There is of course no limit to what one could try. If it suits you, you could run for public office, work to change to behavior of the company that you work for, contact your public representatives directly, start your own organization, or anything else that you can think of.

As to which policies we ought to enact, there are many things that need to be done and a great start would be to enact the 100 solutions outlined in Project Drawdown, which has put numbers to how much different global-scale policies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The actions outlined in Project Drawdown are about the ways to decarbonize society through things like energy, materials, transport, and land use. Project Drawdown speaks to the generally beneficial economic reasons to adopt these changes, but less about how to generate the political will to enact them. To really get society moving in this direction quickly will also take government leadership and policy. Fighting for such things as a Green New Deal or a comprehensive carbon tax are where much of political advocacy ought to go. One of the most promising political solutions is a revenue neutral carbon tax, where polluters pay taxes on the greenhouse gases they emit, but then the government returns all that money as a dividend giving an equal share to every single person in society. This makes things like gasoline more expensive but people get a refund to balance it out, which pushes the entire economy to more sustainable solutions.