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Turning to Individual and Systemic Action for Climate Change

By Becki Cohn-Vargas May 01, 2021 Lifestyle

At the close of 2015, after the historic Paris Climate Agreement was signed, I wrote a Sixty and Me blog: Protecting the Planet is the Best Legacy That We Can Leave for Our Grandkids.

In one comment, a reader wrote, “I’d love to see a grandparent’s movement towards doing anything and everything we can to make sure the world is still survivable for our grandkids.”

Now six years later, a movement has emerged with various organizations: 1,000 Grandmothers, Elders for Climate Action and Grandmothers 4 a Green New Deal.

My previous blog proposed that we each hold a “climate summit with ourselves.” I now realize that my many suggestions to reduce, reuse and recycle were not enough. By working as individuals, without promoting systemic policy and structural changes, we will not be able to stop the rising tide of habitat destruction, mass extinctions and climate impacts that have us on a collision course.

In a USA Today Op Ed piece, the author warns that a focus on individual actions without attention to systemic change, may serve to dangerously divert attention from steps needed to avert the crisis at hand.

A dichotomy between individual acts and collective efforts for systemic change need not be an either-or situation. In this 2021 blog, I suggest that we need both – to work at personal as well as at systemic levels. Each of us can find meaningful ways to participate.

Personal Actions

Inform Yourself and Acknowledge the Climate Crisis

Follow the news of the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021. Read up-to-date articles on environmental issues and solutions from these reliable sources: National Resource Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club.

Jennifer Atkinson has free podcasts to help us understand the emotional impact of climate grief and eco-anxiety. She suggests that as we come to understand our emotions, rather than denying feelings, we can find the motivation to act.

Connect with Nature in Your Life

David Attenborough’s films inspire a love of nature. His “witness statement,” the Netflix special: A Life on Our Planet highlights the devastating negative impacts humans have caused in the natural world, But he does not stop there, he shows realistic solutions that need to be expanded.

Better than words, photos or films are the healing magic of connecting to the earth itself. Go outside, watch a bird in flight on a windy day, look at a sparkling raindrop on a flower. By strengthening our connection to all living things, our commitment to protect them grows.

Walk the Talk

Individual action adds up as more of us change our lifestyles. Increasingly, we have access to solar panels, dual flush toilets, hybrid and electric vehicles and delicious alternatives to eating meat. Water-saving tips, Shop green, Eat to Beat Climate Change, and Eco-friendly gardening inform us on how to do it.

Talk Your Walk

Discuss these issues with friends and family. Motivate others to get involved in both personal and systemic solutions. Try not to be dogmatic or judgmental.

Organizations like Climate Outreach and Living Room Conversations can help foster dialogue to bridge differing opinions with simple discussion templates. Can You Hear Us? has tools for opening intergenerational conversations.

Climate change efforts cannot stop here. We need to collectively leverage change on a massive scale if we want our planet to be habitable for future generations.

Collective Systemic Actions

Systemic solutions are those that call upon our leaders to make good climate policy, including pressuring corporations to change practices of habitat destruction, decrease their carbon footprint and end reliance on fossil fuels.

Speak Out to Stop Destruction and Stand for Systemic Solutions

Support candidates and elected officials who live up to promises for climate policy changes. Join, support and donate to local, national and international environmental organizations.

Become a leader, like Nicole Horseherder who has been working for decades to transition Diné (Navajo) land away from extractive energy production. Here are some other ways to become involved:

Direct Action and 1,000 Grandmothers promote and coordinate protests and educational campaigns.


The Union of Concerned Scientists has a letter writing campaign to urge the two huge fossil fuel companies, BP and Shell to uphold their climate pledges and leave the American Petroleum Institute, an organization that spreads false information and climate denial information. Go Green works to hold corporations accountable.

Citizen Science

Zooniverse invites individuals to participate in citizen science and gather data on a myriad of environmental efforts. You can participate right from your own backyard.

Art and Creative Actions

Carlos Montani, an Argentinian artist has an international project to promote water conservation by having people gather and exhibit water samples. Since 2012, people from over 63 countries in 6 continents have participated. Murals, banners, poster contests, performance art and poetry slams spread information and motivation to others.

Support Local Climate Action Plans

Cities are increasingly making plans to work toward sustainability.

Work for Climate Justice

The term climate justice acknowledges that climate change can have disproportionate social, economic, public health, and other adverse impacts on marginalized populations and people of color. Advocates are striving to have these inequities acknowledged and addressed through long-term mitigation strategies.

Food Justice

Food First  has worked for 40 years to promote access to healthy, ecologically and culturally appropriate sustainable food production. They focus on food justice through research and policy changes and collaboration with indigenous and other community efforts for social change.

Local Initiatives

No Coal Oakland is fighting the construction of an international coal terminal Oakland which would have disproportionately high health impact for the residents of West Oakland, California.

Land Trusts

The Sogorea Te Land Trust is an urban Indigenous women-led land trust based in the San Francisco Bay Area that facilitates the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous people through the practices of cultural revitalization, and land restoration.

Keep Up Our Courage to Work for Change

Future generations will depend on the choices we are making today. Every effort to reduce carbon emissions and protect natural habitats now will be much harder to take in future decades. Sara Jaquette Ray explains that the frontline for the climate crisis is everywhere.

That means that you can decide how to get involved. Jennifer Atkinson suggests that you start by asking yourself where your passions lie. Thenconsider your skills and how you can best contribute – whether it is attending, organizing or leading protests, policy development, writing, speaking, art or through social media, there is plenty of room to step in and step up.

I continue all the personal actions I recommended in 2015 (organic gardening, vegetarianism, and using solar energy and a hybrid car). But I have stepped up work on systemic initiatives by becoming active in two organizations.

I serve as an advisor to a wonderful new organization the Youth Climate Collaborate writing blogs and supporting their virtual Climate Courage workshops. I have been inspired by the participants from Bhutan, Nepal, Mozambique, Pakistan, England, Colombia, India and the US.

I also am working with 350 Bay Area, an offshoot of a national organization, using my writing skills to educate others.

One of my favorite quotes of the ancient scholar Hillel states: “If I am not for myself who will be? If I am only for myself, what good am I? If not now, when?”

Where do your passions and skills lie in working to protect our planet? Have you been working on the individual or systemic level – or both – to promote earth-friendly practices? Please share your experience and tips with the community.

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The Author

Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D, has been blogging regularly for Sixty and Me since 2015. She is a retired educator and independent consultant. She's the co-author of three books on identity safe schools where students of all backgrounds flourish. Becki and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have three adult children and one grandchild. You can connect with her at the links below.

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