Climate Matters: The self education of a would-be activist


12th in a series

Climate change used to be a topic I thought of irregularly and in abstract terms. For sure, it was something that we should all worry about, but it was there on that long list of things we needed to work on as a society: cancer, world hunger, the demise of democracy, the pernicious impact of technology on our well-being.

Sometime in the last two years, addressing climate change began to feel far more urgent to me. It isn’t clear if this was the result of the increasingly disturbing reports from the United Nations on the need to transform our energy patterns in the next decade or face certain doom; the series of unprecedented weather events including deadly wildfires, hurricanes, and heat domes; the image of icebergs the size of Manhattan cleaving into the ocean; or the inspiring words of Greta Thunberg and other youth leaders ringing the alarm and telling us in no uncertain terms that our world is on fire.

Some months ago I came to the conclusion that I needed to DO something to combat climate change. It just wasn’t clear to me what, exactly, an individual of limited means can do to make a difference. I decided that the first step was to learn more.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The Personal & the Political

We all face a complex set of personal choices about our relationship with the internal combustion engine and the burning of fossil fuels. What kind of car should we drive? Should we fly anymore? How should we heat and cool our homes? If we haven’t already, should we have children? How should we invest our money?

All of these questions are marked by one’s level of privilege. If you rent your home, you have fewer choices around going solar and installing heat pumps. Electric cars are still very expensive. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, how useful it is to be told to not buy stocks in fossil fuel companies?

It’s also clear that at least for the short term, the impacts of climate change are uneven, with the worst impacts visited on the most vulnerable people. There is a clear through line that connects combating climate change with social justice movements that aim to address the long-standing inequities within our society.

It’s Not Just Personal

Many of the most articulate voices in the climate justice movement point out that while it is certainly important to do what one can as an individual to reduce one’s carbon footprint, we can not focus exclusively on these personal choices. We also need to consider larger policy questions. To decarbonize our economy at the rate that the scientists tell us we must do to avoid the very worst effects of climate change, we need to restructure our approach to all aspects of how we live. That means change at all levels of government. We need new rules and regulations, tax codes, incentives and actual investments to promote and catalyze decarbonization, to build up resilience, fund research and development, and signal to the market that decarbonization and resilience are the top priorities. Corporations and organizations of all kinds must play a critical role by setting their own goals for decarbonizing their operations, and otherwise operating more energy efficiently.

The more I read, the more I have found myself vacillating between a sense of hope and excitement over the possibilities afforded by so many different opportunities to get involved in the climate movement, a sense of vertigo at the complexity and scale of the problem, and a sense of dread that perhaps we are too late and aren’t going to be able to make the necessary changes in the next decade.

What Can I Do?

I have found that the best way to stay informed, hopeful, and connected, and to identify specific actions that I can take is to change my reading and listening habits in these four specific ways.

  1. Listen to Climate Change Podcasts — I regularly listen to How to Save a Planet, which provides fun, uplifting stories of individuals and groups that are making a difference, and also provides helpful advice on actions that individuals can take.
  2. Subscribe to Climate Change Newsletters — Most major newspapers and magazines now offer climate newsletters. In addition, there are a growing number of climate-related newsletters written by leading scientists and activists, which I find is a great way to stay current on new developments in an accessible format.
  3. Join Climate Activist Organizations — Depending on your age and theory of change, there are many organizations seeking your support and attention. 350.org and the Sunrise Movement and the recently launched Third Act provide a way to work in community, as well as a regular set of suggested actions. Our local Climate Economy Action Center (CEAC) is launching a Climate Action Plan this spring and is actively looking for volunteers to pitch in.
  4. Review Job Boards — Combating climate change is good for the economy. There are hundreds of new industries and thousands of new jobs being created where one can apply one’s talents and develop new skills in the service of decarbonization and building resilience, including volunteer, part-time, and short-term opportunities. I can recommend climatebase.org and workonclimate.org as good places to explore.

I’ve put together a modest website at bit.ly/climate-matters with links to all of these resources and more, and where you can add suggested resources that you find helpful in keeping yourself informed.

All four of these approaches provide regular, timely, actionable bursts of information that over time provide a sustainable way to keep current, informed, engaged, and prodded to make changes both large and small in how we live, vote, and participate in our society. In addition, I would recommend reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s most excellent “Ministry for the Future,” which does the important work of painting a picture of a future world that has done the hard but necessary work of doing what needs to be done to create a livable and equitable future for all.


Mike Roy has lived in Middlebury since 2008. He is dean of the library at Middlebury College and serves on the college’s Energy 2028 Steering Committee, focusing on data-driven efforts to increase accountability, and the integration of energy data analysis into the broader curriculum.

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