Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement had one silver lining: It propelled people across the globe to step up and commit to taking action against climate change. Michael Bloomberg pledged to provide the $15 million needed to fund the agreement, more than 175 U.S. cities are vowing to still honor the goals of the accord and crank up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a number of CEO’s have left Trump’s business advisory boards in protest of the President’s decision.
Now, it’s our turn.
To even consider a leadership role, you have to acknowledge climate change and find a way to combat it. Climate change is a complex, environmental issue that requires an “all hands on deck” attitude to deal with.
No matter what industry you’re in or what level of responsibility you hold, there’s a place for you in the climate change conversation. There’s a way that you can do your part to “Drawdown” greenhouse gas emissions and bring our atmosphere back into balance.
Ok, so easier said than done, right?
Taking action against a global problem with both grave environmental and social impacts isn’t exactly a walk in the park. The gravity of the situation is enough to immobilize the most cool-headed of us with fear and overwhelm. Or better yet, what if you just ignore climate change and let others do something about it? It’s especially hard for us to take action because climate change still doesn’t feel like an imminent threat. Most of us are able to still go about our daily lives with little or no change in routine.
Understanding the reluctance to take action
Since the 1950s, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have steadily risen above 300 parts per million (ppm), into 400 ppm and beyond. We let years of scientific research go mostly unheeded. And who knew we could make such an enormous impact on the Earth? It’s almost inconceivable.
We let years of scientific research go mostly unheeded.
Maybe the refusal to accept the facts and responsibility is because it’s too hard to imagine that we could actually make a difference one way or another.
Without an immediate threat or an immediate solution, we struggle to muster the motivation to take action. Why is this so hard for us? Because we’re wired to be exceptionally good short-term, not long-term, thinkers.
Can we shift our short-term mindset?
Our ancestors had to rely on their fight or flight response as a means of survival. Should I run from or kill the large carnivorous mammal? They either responded or lost their lives—not tomorrow or ten years from now, but right then and there in the present.
As threats become less immediate and less concrete, however, the harder it becomes to find the motivation required to jump to our feet.
It’s hard for us to justify making sacrifices today that will only provide a benefit years down the line.
We’re simply not wired this way, which is why climate change activism and leadership is such a tricky problem to engage in. We really don’t know how to work with this amorphous time-related topic. We aren’t sure if our individual actions can amount to more than little blips on the skin of a massive planet, much less a shift in a global problem.
To most of us, climate change isn’t the imminent threat. It’s making money! If you’re in charge of any kind of budget, either for work or for your own household, then how much you take home at the end of the day is still the highest driving concern. Our most immediate concerns are the bills or the groceries or the laundry list of equivalent modern day carnivorous animals that will gobble us up and eat us whole if we don’t stay on top of them.
Define your climate change leadership role
So what do we do? Even without the issue of melted ice caps and sea level rise, we’re struggling to stay afloat. Life’s many pressures, from the lack of affordable health care to gender inequality, make it a daily struggle to just keep moving forward. This makes it difficult to determine where to start as a climate change leader and if our actions will actually make a difference.
First, assess where your interests are in relation to this problem: Are you a recycler? Are you into solar or wind? Are you into education? Family planning? Impact investing? Changing laws? Since we have to deal with climate change on every single issue, pick something that you’re interested in or passionate about. Don’t worry if it’s the most newsworthy issue or not … just step into the movement where you can and carve a little space for yourself.
Find your tribe
Once you’ve defined your space, find others who share the same outlook and passion. Align yourself with people who are approaching climate change from the same angle and help each other achieve your goals. If you feel that solar energy is the solution, find a local nonprofit dedicated to spreading solar and see how you can help. Share ideas, concerns, and challenges and use the group mind to solve the problems at hand.
The goal is for you to find the leadership role in climate change that fits you and then focus on that. Just take it up. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for more knowledge about the topic or more proof. Instead of waiting for more action from another leader, take action yourself. You may fumble, but keep going. Otherwise, the issue becomes so overwhelming you’ll find yourself immobilized by the sheer size of it.
Thankfully, other global leaders have joined forces with fellow climate change allies ever since the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. More than 175 cities are pledging their commitment to the Paris Agreement’s goals, even if the federal government refuses to take the necessary steps to combat global warming. These state and local leaders are committed to reducing their carbon emissions without the economic support of the federal government. They will, however, have the support of each other as they tackle the challenges of climate change on a local level. Step in with them.
Realign Your Priorities
I want to acknowledge that I can hear some of your arguments already: ‘I’m overworked as it is! What about social justice issues?’
I get it.
I know that it’s hard to find enough hours in the day to do all the things we have to do: exercise, eat dinner with our families, floss, much less fight climate change. Sometimes it’s all we can do to get out of holy hell mode, but we all have to do our part—we absolutely have to—even if it’s one thing a year, like not using straws or reducing our consumption of grain fed beef. Just take something up that you can manage.
Tackling climate change doesn’t require moving off grid or forsaking everything that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. It does help, however, to lay the lens of climate change over every decision you make. Consider the environmental impact of your own office, for instance:
- Does the company really need to provide bottled water at every meeting?
- How can you encourage alternative transportation amongst your employees or coworkers?
- Is there a recycling and/or compost program at your office? Could you start one?
- Does your office provide work lunches? Could you suggest a vegetarian meal at least once a week?
The effects of climate change can easily immobilize us with fear and overwhelm. If we recognize that all of us are scared, however, we can overcome that fear to do something constructive. You have what it takes to become a leader within your community for climate change activism—you just have to choose one goal, one thing you believe you can improve, and go for it.
Photo credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Reto Stöckli. CC BY 2.0.
I’d love to hear from you …
What’s one action you could take today to combat climate change? If you’re already taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, I’d love to hear what they are and if you have ideas for how others can become climate change leaders in their communities. Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Special offer for aspiring leaders:
Looking for one-on-one leadership consulting? I am now offering consulting services to clients who are seeking to achieve their greatest professional potential while affecting positive change for people and the planet. Contact me here with the subject line ‘Leader in the making.’