Climate Crisis Series 1: The Individual and the Group

Climate Crisis Series 1: The Individual and the Group

A bit of background:

Climate change, as far as Gen Z is concerned, has become the most important challenge facing our society. Although the issue of climate change has been a serious threat since the hippies of the 60’s took it on, the science supporting the climate crises goes back even further, to the early 1900s when the first greenhouse gases were detected. The single most important problem facing both individual and group climate activism, is the fact that we are very quickly running out of time, and with people becoming more defeated each day, the need to fight climate change must grow stronger.

So what does all that mean anyway? Well, this issue has created a unique and troubling split, specifically in North America, as our society races against the clock to stop our course towards a devastating future.(The clock is currently ticking!! Go buy some EarthSuds!!) This two-part article will analyze both individual and group action regarding climate change, and explain the pros and cons of both. The fact of the matter is that a combination of both is required to stand up to those who are destroying our environment. 

One person against the world?

With all the doom and gloom of a serious introduction out of the way, we can get down to business. Individual action regarding climate change is a fundamental first step towards a future we all want. When it comes to combating climate change as one person, a variety of actions help, these range from;

  • Dietary changes
  • Using and advocating for more sustainable transportation
  • Shifting away from single-use plastics

 Individual action can also manifest in the desire to change other people’s perspectives surrounding climate action. 

A brief story

Back in late summer of 2020, (which feels like a million years ago) Nicole Raytek, a fellow author for the EarthSuds Blog, challenged me on an Instagram story I posted. The Instagram story detailed how we, as consumers, have been sold paper straws, veganism, electric cars, etc., all while the largest polluters get away with environmental destruction on a massive scale. Although I fundamentally agree with the concept of personal action and believe that all the examples detailed in the story are worth supporting, it ended up not coming across that way. (Things get a little spicy on my Instagram stories(I’m an angry person, sue me))  Nicole suggested that narratives such as these have the potential to make personal vs. group action too simple and end up discounting the importance of individual action. It really forced me to stop pitting my own beliefs against others and took me away from the weight that accompanies standing up to climate change alone. 

Suzuki knows best!

The interaction I pointed out above set me down a journey that changed the way I interact with individual consumerism. I began doing some research for methods I could apply to my own life. For example, I came across The David Suzuki Foundation’s propositions for individual action to combat climate change. These activities involve;

  • Urging parliament to pass sustainable legislation
  • Eating locally grown and meat-free meals
  • Switching to public or electric transport 
  • Use energy at home wisely 

All these are fantastic, but, to me, one proposed action stands above the rest. The way I see it, once all the other actions are implemented, there is only so much an individual can do. That is where the idea of starting a conversation comes into play. 

Don’t stop talking

Everyone has a ridiculous family member who shares insane things on Facebook, or worse, a family group chat. Personally, my anti-vax cousin comes to mind. (Don’t get me started on anti-vaxxers in the age of Covid-19) All the ridiculous theories and anger make it easy to forget that these are people who care about their family and friends, no matter what they believe in. Getting at the side of them that values the safety of who they love, as opposed to arguing with them about their political or social opinions is a sure-fire way to start a conversation about the dangers climate change poses. Regardless of whether that whacky family member believes in climate change or not, it will affect them or the people they love. If you make them consider the choice between conspiracy theory facebook groups or their family, the latter is sure to win. 

Everything with a grain of salt

As with any form of climate activism, individual action can have its downsides too. One person against the world can seem challenging at the best of times and downright defeating at the worst. The fact of the matter is that, in some cases, it really can feel like one person against the world. Some scholarly research I found shows that; 

  • only 9% of recyclable materials end up effectively recycled. 
  • agriculture only makes up 10% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • In Canada, transportation and oil and gas, combine for the vast majority of emissions.

 I don’t put these statistics here to discourage or  tear down individuals who recycle properly or are vegan, but rather highlight the problem intrinsic to individual action. Let’s say there is an individual who recycles perfectly, is vegan, and takes exclusively electric city transport. The problem with this is not the individual’s action, but the fact that it is only one person.

Closing thoughts

Individual action serves an important purpose, mainly in the form of societal pressure to influence others to make sustainable changes. Individualism can be a wonderful thing in itself. However, it also has the power to draw like minded people together. A collective is just a large group of individuals fighting for a future they will all inhabit. Individuals need to come together and demand a more sustainable and equitable future from those who decide our climate policy. Taking a leap towards a sustainable future can be scary, but I promise that making positive changes that benefit the planet is so rewarding. Stay tuned for part two where we will go over both the benefits and downsides of group action. Individuals across history have come together to defeat repression and injustice, but is our current sociological climate proving to be too complicated? Find out by reading part two!


Sources for reference