I don’t think you should take climate action unless you really want to. Don’t do it because you feel guilty or because of anyone else’s expectations. I also think, though, that some part of you sincerely does want to take action, even if you’re not sure what to do.



Quicklinks to Article Content:
Why You Should Keep Listening – Even If You’re Not an “Activist”
Drop the Guilt
Connecting with Your Sincere Desire to Take Care of Life
Changing How We Think about “Climate Action”


Why You Should Keep Listening – Even If You’re Not an “Activist”

I want you to keep listening to this podcast. I want you to recommend it to others. I hope it is accessible to many people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as climate activists, and that it becomes a mainstay in the lives of thousands of people. Because of this, I find myself worrying about how to discuss what I see as the essential “third ingredient” of a sustainable, authentic, and generous life in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis: Taking Action.

I worry:

  • If you don’t see yourself as a climate “activist,” and aren’t particularly interested in becoming one, how can I discuss taking action without boring or alienating you? Why would you keep listening?
  • How can I encourage action, and explore in depth what taking action means, without seeming judgmental of anyone not “taking action?”

If you don’t see yourself as a climate activist and aren’t interested in becoming one, I hope you will give me a chance. My intention is to explore the idea of “taking action” in a very open-minded way – in a way meant to give you food for thought and encourage creativity. Even if you never end up doing anything that’s likely to be labeled “climate activism,” I think you will find a great deal on this podcast that is interesting and useful to you.

At the same time, I invite you to challenge yourself just a little bit and listen to (or read) what I have to say about taking climate action, instead of immediately dismissing it as irrelevant to you. I’ll never suggest you go out and do anything that doesn’t feel authentic for you, and I’ll be trying to expand the popular the ideas about what “taking action” means. The forces in our world which are deeply invested in business-as-usual – the forces climate scientist and author Michael Mann calls the climate “inactivists”[1] – couldn’t be happier that most of us think of climate action as the domain of a fringe group of radicals who happen to enjoy that kind of thing.


Drop the Guilt

If it’s never occurred to you to “take action” on climate, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty or inadequate. Not only is that ineffective and even counter-productive, it’s also disrespectful. Each of us needs to make our own decisions, and if I present my case as if you’re not capable of doing that, or can’t be trusted to do that, then why should you listen to me? And why would I want to enlist you in my cause?

I encourage you to trust yourself and stop feeling guilty for anything. Walking around feeling guilty can be a way for us to continue doing things we think are wrong (or to continue not doing things we think are right), and yet convince ourselves that it’s all okay because, well, we feel guilty! It’s like the icky burden of guilt is a penance that allows to us continue our sin indefinitely.

I propose you let go of guilt and just be honest with yourself. Set aside the opinions and expectations of others, look at the actions (or lack thereof) you feel any guilt about, and ask yourself whether you actually think you’re in the wrong. If not, then drop the guilt. If yes, then explore whether there are changes you can make in your life. If no, there are no changes you can make, then acknowledge your sadness about what you need to do and drop the guilt. If there are changes you can make, start making them – and drop the guilt.

On the positive side, a persistent feeling of guilt can be a sign that there is something in our lives we need to pay attention to. So it’s probably best not to be too eager to get rid of the guilt just because you don’t want to feel it. Instead, investigate it like I just described and be open to possibility you’ll reach a conclusion that change is required.


Connecting with Your Sincere Desire to Take Care of Life

Once you’ve investigated your guilt and then dropped it, if you look really honestly at yourself, I think you actually will want to take action on climate. Here’s why: You care about your life. You care about your family, friends, loved ones, and community. You care about nature. You want your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to thrive throughout their lives – to continue learning, creating, loving, working, playing, and celebrating the way human beings have for millennia. You care about your church, or your ethnic or family traditions, or music, culture, or art, and want to see these things continue far into the future. You care about all of this, and all of this is under serious threat. If we continue on our current course, everything we love could be destroyed – if not by the physical effects of climate and ecological breakdown, then by the social, economic, and political breakdown they will cause.

Every one of us would take action if we perceived that our lives, or the lives of our family, were directly threatened. Even if we’ve never thought of ourselves as an “activist” or had the slightest interest in “activism,” we would take to the streets – shouting, demanding, chanting, and holding signs of protest – if we thought our government was failing to protect our family. People have spontaneously and sincerely taken this kind of action throughout history and are doing so as I speak. Basically, when it gets bad enough, when it gets personal enough, we all become “activists” in the broadest sense of the word. We take action when we feel we need to, not because someone convinces us we should do it in order to be a good person.

I’m guessing that part of you – maybe just a small part of you – sincerely wants to take action on climate. Part of you wishes there was something you could do to help, some meaningful action you could take to make a difference. I suspect that if you haven’t thought much about this natural inclination, it’s because you have no idea what such meaningful action could be, or how it might fit into your life.


Changing How We Think about “Climate Action”

Disinterest in climate action is often associated with very limited ideas about what it can look like, so let’s start thinking beyond those ideas! I will explore this much more in future episodes, but just to give you a sense of what I mean, consider that climate action could include:

  • Informing yourself about the current environmental issues and legislation facing your elected representatives, so you can let this influence the way you vote
  • Campaigning for a political candidate who is willing to take bold climate action
  • Keeping tabs on the activities of your elected officials to hold them accountable, and then calling their offices and showing up at their town hall meetings to either thank them or complain
  • Getting on the email lists of groups who will let you know if there’s a campaign, protest, or rally happening you might want to participate in
  • Getting out of your comfort zone and actually attending a rally if you’ve never done so before
  • Inviting a handful of friends over who care about the climate, and forming a monthly meeting to discuss the issue and explore together what can you do (do this in person or by Zoom – this can be a fun and enriching thing to add to your life)
  • Investigating local climate action groups by attending a meeting or two, and seeing if they’re doing anything you might want to get involved in
  • Volunteering your skills to a climate organization (you’d be surprised how you can serve in important ways by doing anything from stuffing envelopes to website design, bookkeeping, making lunch, copyediting, social media posting, public relations advice, or pretty much anything you can think of)
  • Campaigning to get a community to which you belong, such as your church, workplace, or city, to formally declare a climate emergency (the Climate Mobilization Project gives advice and support for this work)
  • Preparing yourself psychologically and emotionally to show up in the streets when the opportunity arises to join thousands of others in demanding our governments protect our families from climate and ecological breakdown (Be ready! This is going to be fun, and it’s bound to happen eventually)
  • Supporting people who are doing climate activism – offering them encouragement, being curious about their activities, maybe offering them financial support or practical assistance like looking after their pets when they’re in jail because of nonviolent civil disobedience!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of possible climate actions, and I’ll certainly discuss much more about this in future episodes. I hope I managed to get across the variety and breadth of how climate action can look. Note that one of the most important “actions” is expressing your willingness to be mobilized when the need arises. Sometimes the ability to show up in great numbers is the only thing that convinces our elected officials that we really do want them to act now to preserve life on earth.

If you’re already a climate activist, thank you for your service. I know it’s not easy, and it’s often a thankless task. If you’re curious about taking action, I strongly recommend you just do something. Anything. Even a small thing like attending one meeting or starting to look into the environmental issues in your area. Finding even a few like-minded people to go on this climate action journey with you is valuable and makes the whole thing much more fun. If you’re still not interested in taking action and you just tolerated this episode, thanks for your patience. In a way, just listening to this podcast is a form of climate action, so congrats and thanks!



[1] Mann, Michael. The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back the Planet. New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2021. Page 45. 

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