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Uploaded:2021-07-09
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I think we need to interface with the climate crisis like it is an emergency and taking personal action is a great way to both have a small impact on the world, but also to incorporate into your identity, and demonstrate to others that this is a thing that you care a lot about.

Let's always remember that climate is a justice issue. Affluent people will be far less negatively impacted than those who have less, and that goes for inside borders and across them. Everything we can do to slow the gushing of CO2 and CH4 into our atmosphere is something that will make this a more just planet.

It's time to act...that means advocating for carbon taxes and keeping coal, oil, and gas in the ground, but it also means making thoughtful choices about your own impact. Those things are additive, not subtractive.

Sources:
Hackel and Sparkman article: https://slate.com/technology/2018/10/carbon-footprint-climate-change-personal-action-collective-action.html

Moderating spillover: Focusing on personal sustainable behavior rarely hinders and can boost climate policy support
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629621002437?dgcid=author

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Good morning John.

So at this point, it's pretty easy to not know what to think. And maybe there's a little bit of like, internet sociology mechanics to that. Like, people say, "Here's a good idea!" and then very soon afterwords, there will be another sort of movement of "No that's a bad idea!" followed, of course, by me and the rest of the world throwing up our hands and saying, "Well, I guess we'll never know!"

There's also something really normal about this because, of course, we won't ever know. Like, when it comes to big hard problems, we're never—like, even if we solve them really successfully, we won't have solved them in the best possible way. There's just too many ways to do it!

But the thing that grinds my gears about all this is how devoid of data and analysis these conversations tend to be. They tend 
to focus mostly on how the arguments make people feel. Which I get, this is how rhetoric works. But it's nice to have data to support what you're saying.

I'm being too abstract here and I don't need to be. So we have known for the entire 41 years of my existence that climate change is going to impose some pretty devastating instability on our world. And yes, there are still people who, through greed or bias or ignorance, don't think that that's a thing. But we know they're wrong.

What we don't know, though, is what exactly to do about it. On a personal level, I don't know what I should do about it. More complicatedly, I don't know what you should do about it. And if we're being honest with ourselves, none of us know what we would do if we were the only person in the world with power to decrease the impacts of climate change in such a way that it would have the least amount of negative impacts on existing people, and have the most positive impact on people of the future.

But let's just stick to ourselves. There have been some conversations about what people should do individually to interface with the climate crisis. And we've probably all seen that thing going around that's like, "It doesn't matter what individuals do because 90% of the emissions are done by 50 companies" or something like that. Which is a nonsense thought, right? Because like, if those companies just closed up shop and none of them ever did anything again, billions of people would die.

Like, you do still have to put gasoline into the truck that brings the food to the store. Like at least that. And also the tractors, and also the energy used to heat and cool homes so that you don't die. You get it. You get this.

So that's a fun sticky idea that resolves anyone of their personal responsibility. It feels good. It resonates with people. It doesn't make any sense.

But there is a more compelling version of this idea that goes something like, "Look, we gotta give up on this personal responsibility stuff because this needs to not be individual solutions. It needs to be system-wide solutions, and focusing on individuals is distracting us from putting pressure on governments and corporations to make the actual changes that will have actual impacts.

And that idea, I would guess, really resonates with you. It really resonates with me. It's logically consistent. It makes a lot of sense. I have no idea if it's true though, and research shows that it's not.

It turns out one of the most important ways that we show that something is an emergency is by acting like it's an emergency. If we are not actually acting like there is a problem, our brains have a hard time remembering that there is a problem. And also the people around us have fewer opportunities to see that there are people acting as if there is a crisis.

Social scientists have studied this, and they've found that people taking individual action leads to more pushes for policy change, not less. The original idea is that if you focus more on individual action there will be less push for policy change. It turns out to be the opposite of that.

As social psychologists Leor Hackel and Gregg Sparkman said in their 2018 article, "People don't spring into action because they see smoke; they spring into action because they see others rushing in with water."

So taking action has effects on people around you. It also has effects on you. It emphasizes within an individual that these things matter. What science is showing is that taking individual action never results in people being more lenient on systems.

It does the opposite. It empowers the people taking the action and their neighbors to push for more systemic change. So the good news is: We do have hard-working people doing research to tell us whether or not the things that we read on the internet are wrong.

The bad news is that if the tweet makes us feel good, we don't tend to spend a lot of time doing a bunch of research to tell us whether or not it actually is good.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.