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As Individuals We'll Lose

SUSTAINABILITY FORUM on What Individuals Can Do

By Bill McKibben | 350.org | September 23, 2011

CREDIT: Dana Robinson (CC).

Ever since we started building a big climate movement at 350.org, we've met people who meet the following description: They were aware of the problem, sometimes deeply. They had changed their lightbulbs and bought a Prius. They understood that these actions were not really going to solve the problem. They felt so damned small against a problem so big.

And of course, they were essentially right. You simply can't make the math work to solve climate change one household at a time, or one campus, or one congregation, or one anything. It's important to get our lives in order: But if change is going to matter, it's going to have to come by multiplication, not addition.

That means: politics. It means banding together to fix the problem at a systemic level—almost certainly by putting a serious enough price on carbon that we can actually bend the trajectory of energy use on this planet.

You can't make the math work to solve climate change one household at a time. We need to get organized.

People have been seeking a political solution for a long time, of course, but most of that period was spent thinking that if we could just convince some key world leaders of the severity of the problem, they would do something. That approach died in Copenhagen, and it died because it hadn't reckoned with the power of the fossil fuel industry, which has used its financial might to block real progress.

Since we'll never have as much money as Exxon, we need another currency—bodies, spirit, creativity. Solidarity. And we've shown it's possible—in the last three years 350.org has coordinated almost 15,000 demonstrations in every country on Earth save North Korea. CNN called it the most widespread political activity in the planet's history. Consider it a beta test for a movement that hasn't won yet, but could.

So one way of answering this question is to say: As individuals we're powerless against climate change. If we act as individuals we'll lose. The only way we won't is if we join together.

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Read More: Communication, Culture, Democracy, Diplomacy, Education, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Religion, Science, Sustainability, Denmark, Korea (North), Global

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