After a disastrous 2020, a lot of us have the climate crisis on their mind. But if you're like I was, you have no idea of how to get started.
I've only been at it for a couple of months, but for me, building a daily climate habit has been the key to get out of my rut of inaction.
In this post, I share what has worked to get more engaged and start taking action towards a decarbonized future. If you're reading this and feeling stuck about your climate impact, please try a daily climate habit and see how it goes.
For a few years now, I have felt stuck on climate. Like many folks, I have known for years (circa An Inconvenient Truth) that the situation was dire, and we needed to act. I thought it enough of a big deal in 2007 to major in energy in college and then in nuclear engineering in grad school.
Then, the 2008 financial crisis happened, a lot of Cleantech investors lost their shirts, and a problem that already looked hard became even more challenging. Like seemingly many others, I looked elsewhere for career and self-actualization while promising to get back to it someday.
During that decade, I didn't suddenly become oblivious of the climate challenge. I was doing a few individual actions to "limit my impact" and live somewhat more sustainably. But I hadn't found a way to engage and do something that felt meaningful.
Climate folks have been screaming for years about the trap of focusing on individual actions (which will probably come down as one of the greatest tricks the devil ever pulled).
For example, in the words of Bill McKibben: "All of us have a finite quantum of time or energy or money or whatever to spend trying to solve this problem. So job one is to organize, job two is to organize your friends and neighbors and job three is to organize and if you have some energy left over after that, by all means, check out every light bulb in your house."
I knew that individual action isn't enough, and collective action is necessary if we want to have a chance. But I also felt I was just one person; how do I bridge this gap?.
I don't know how to organize. I don't have a great idea and lots of money. It would probably take a 10-year training plan to turn me into a radical. What the hell am I supposed to do to organize?
I felt stuck. Nothing I could do individually would make a large dent, yet I didn't know how to get started with collective action. Worse, my inability to move forward was starting to feed itself in a perverse loop ("Maybe I'm not suited for this?").
That "loop of despair" resonated when I read Atomic Habits last year. Early in the book, James Clear talks about the relationship between identity and habits. Your identity can be a strong driver of your behavior ("I'm a runner, so I go running") but can also be a barrier to new habits ("I'm not a runner").
His advice to counter it: "Start small and get your reps in."
(This feels evident after the fact, but I now think that most useful life advice does.)
In particular, two recommendations he made stuck with me: