Climate Activism: A Focus on Every Level

If you read any given article on climate change and what can be done or what is being done right now you’ll more than likely see one of two things. First, you could see an article talking about the small differences you can make in your life that will help lessen your individual impact on climate change and global warming. Secondly, you might see an article talking about efforts to pass legislation on the federal level to restrict corporations from emitting as much carbon, taxing them for the amount they use, or putting national restriction levels for CO2. While both of these things are very important there are several issues with the fact that these are the only two types of activism largely talked about when it comes to climate change. Today I want to talk about what other levels we can and should be more active in and some of the issues with the conversation only centering around these two current major themes.

To create a truly effective movement to combat climate we need to start focusing on all levels of society. To do this we can start with the individual level, which is the smallest unit of change, or we can start with national legislation, which is the largest unit of change, however, we need to start moving up and down, respectively. Essentially this means broadening or shrinking the scope of our activism to reach the levels in between the individual and the national legislation levels in a progressive and tactful manner. Here are the levels we, as people who care about combating climate change, should start to put more focus on:

Household Level

This is the level immediately above the level of the individual. After you’ve done what you can to start reducing your personal impact such as shutting off the lights when you leave a room, washing your clothes in cold water, or even going vegan it’s time to shift your focus to the household level. For some people, this may be the same thing as the individual level if we live alone but it’s different for a lot of us who have roommates or live with family. The idea is to talk to the other members of the household about what they can start doing on the personal level and even some things that can be changed in the house such as replacing the types of lightbulbs you use, getting solar panels, starting an herb-garden, carpooling if possible, or doing meatless Monday dinners as a house. By doing this you are exercising your immediate realm of influence and working towards increasing the impact you can have past the level of the individual.

Your Local Community/Neighborhood

After you’ve done what you can to make the difference in your individual life and at the household level we can start to look at our local community. As before, the idea is that you are working from the personal level outward to increase what you can affect. To start making a difference in your local community and neighborhood you can try to start talking to local representatives such as city council members and the mayor about making small changes to reduce the climate impact of your city or town such as building more energy-efficient buildings, improving public transportation infrastructure, or modernizing the treatment of waste. Additionally, you can talk to non-profits and other community organizations about spreading the word and trying to reduce their impact as well.

Local Businesses

Focusing on local businesses is roughly the same scope as your local community/neighborhood but instead of focusing on citizens and government you are focusing on the private industry. This could include discussing things like switching light bulbs, reducing unnecessary energy usage, switching to more local suppliers, and/or getting solar panels or other renewable energy sources with local business owners or managers.

State Legislation

State legislation is kind of a middle road between working upward from the individual level and working downward from the national legislative level. Those of you already involved in national legislation efforts have the experience and knowledge on how to affect change on the level of government and can effectively bring those skills down to the state level to encourage state representatives and governor’s to look into legislation to restrict the amount of carbon emission allowed by businesses while national legislation is still in the pipelines. While those of us who are working on expanding our realm of influence can reach up to our state legislators and governors to discuss our experiences in our local communities and speaking to local businesses to express the support their constituents have for combating climate change. With both of these efforts going on state legislators are much more likely to shift their focus to climate change because they have pressures from national efforts and from their local constituents.

Big Business/Corporations

Perhaps one of the most difficult areas to influence unless you’re on the inside, big business/corporations are still an important focus for us to have. After all, industry makes up 22% of total emissions. This is a difficult area of focus because corporations’ main goal is to make money and increase their stock prices, typically at all costs. Unfortunately, ‘all costs’ often includes the cost of pollution. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t cost-effective solutions for combating climate change and this is one of the two things we should stress to corporations. Small business is often easier to get on board with activist efforts because they are a part of their local community and see and understand the effects of what they do and what is being done on larger levels. Corporations are different because they are often so disconnected from the communities they serve and run like a machine. This doesn’t mean the ones in charge aren’t people though. These people, like everyone else, want to do things that make them feel good and want to make their name recognized. By stressing that they can have their cake and eat it too, meaning they can help reduce their impact in cost-effective ways (and possibly get some good PR!), helps open the door to have these executives allow themselves to make this positive change. The other focus we can take with these corporations is to show the progress that is being made on legislative levels. By showing them this we can effectively pitch the idea that switching over now, or at least starting to switch, will save headache and costs rather than having to do so under harsh regulations and stricter timelines. Either way, the approach with big business is to find ways to solve their reservations and to show them ways making these changes can benefit them.

Bonus: Working with Global/International Organizations

Working on a global scale is arguably a step higher than working on the level of national legislation (but also still may have less overall influence than each nation’s government can have). This can be speaking to the UN or working with global non-profits and other organizations that have influenced all over the planet. This can create a conversation between nations and citizens all over the world regarding raising awareness and making change on all previously discussed levels.

In the current focus, we are only talking about the personal level and the level of the national government and doing so is restrictive and misleading. By talking about the personal level so much the perspective emerges from individuals that we are the problem and that our everyday choices are what is most impacting climate change. While it is true that we should take responsibility where we can it’s also important to recognize that institutions and organizations operating on larger scales are the ones that create the choices we as consumers and individual citizens have and that there are plenty of things that are influencing climate change that we have no control over. On the other side, by putting too much focus on the level of national legislation it creates the perspective that individual citizens can’t really do anything anyway and we just have to wait for changes to be made top-down. Instead, the reality is a mixed perspective where we as individuals need to do what we can to influence bottom-up, whether that be expanding our influence or changing what we buy to show businesses we prefer greener products, but also support top-down efforts whether that means getting involved how we can, spreading the word, or even donating to keep these efforts alive.

Overall, if we really want to combat and reverse climate change we need to operate on all levels, not just the top and bottom. By doing this we give ourselves a greater chance, and possibly the only chance, at hitting the necessary goals set by climate scientists across the world.




Political commentator, life coach, and moral philosophy fanatic. Here I talk about the perspectives, actions, and habits we can take to simply make life better.

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Nathaniel Allen

Nathaniel Allen

Political commentator, life coach, and moral philosophy fanatic. Here I talk about the perspectives, actions, and habits we can take to simply make life better.

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