“I grew up sensitive to the environment … but the urgency piece really hit me in 2017.”
That was the year wildfires forced Julia Jackson’s family, proprietors of Jackson Family Wines for nearly 40 years, to evacuate their ranch in Sonoma County. For Jackson, the wildfires were a visceral warning that climate change isn’t a future problem—it’s a right-now problem.
Over the past several years, fires, floods, hurricanes, and other catastrophes exacerbated by global warming have underscored the urgency of taking action to reverse climate change.
In response, cities, counties, countries—including the entire European Union—have officially declared climate change to be an emergency. Global organizations continue to push for coordinated worldwide action. Youth activists such as Xiye Bastida, Greta Thunberg, and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez organize young people. Celebrities and the wealthy aim their philanthropic efforts at the climate crisis.
While climate action is happening all around us, many people confront a simple but seemingly daunting question: What can I do?
We put the question to Julia Jackson and three other leaders in the sustainability movement: What can we do to have an impact on climate change?
The answers might surprise you. Day-to-day actions—from what you read to where you bank—can have an impact on our planet.
“The basic behaviors are familiar to most people … but maybe it’s time to think bigger.”
The basic behaviors are familiar to most people: Turn off lights. Ride public transportation. Use less water. But maybe it’s time to think bigger.
“We don’t tend to operate at the scale of the planet or the scale of society,” says Hilairy Hartnett, a senior scientist at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “I try to get my students to think not just about what they can do personally, but what they can do at the scale of their community, or their state, or their country, or the planet.”
WHERE YOU WORK MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Scaling up one’s climate action could mean volunteering for an organization working to reverse the crisis. It could mean evangelizing on the issue to family, friends, and acquaintances. Or it could mean changing jobs to focus on the problem, says entrepreneur Olya Irzak.
Irzak is founder and CEO of Frost Methane Labs, a startup that works to mitigate the release of methane from permafrost in the Arctic region. She believes switching to a climate-focused job is “by far the most impactful thing people can do.”
“Any talent we can put toward reversing climate change is a huge force multiplier,” Irzak says. “I don’t even care the skill set—marketing, finance, anything. For people that are currently working and have the luxury to be able to switch jobs, that’s definitely the number one thing.”
How you vote Makes a difference
If a job change is out of reach, the ballot box certainly isn’t.
“It’s simple: We need to vote. It’s not just voting for a candidate. It’s voting for our survival. Who you vote for is really about securing your safety into the future,” says Jackson, founder of the Grounded Summit, an annual conference focused on climate solutions.
Where you shop Makes a difference
Consumers also vote with their dollars. More than 75% of young people say they have bought or would consider buying from a brand to show support for a cause that a brand champions. From fashion to food, climate activists advocate supporting companies that take global warming seriously.
Discerning which brands are genuine about reversing climate change and which are just making a greenwashed sales pitch can be tricky. How does one separate the good actors from the cynical posers?
“You can see the difference between companies that have and haven’t thought seriously about this,” says Irzak. “You can see the difference between ‘Our executive took 10 flights so we purchased carbon offsets,’ versus companies thinking about everything in their supply chain, from production processes to transporting goods to the store.”
Sarah Shanley Hope is executive director of The Solutions Project, which works to accelerate the transition to clean energy. She recommends evaluating a brand by whether it pursues authentic relationships with impacted communities, adopts climate-friendly and affordable solutions for customers, and demonstrates a willingness to learn.
She points to Seventh Generation as a company that “knew from their customer base that the human story of this clean energy transition was really important. But they also knew they didn’t have relationships in the climate justice movement. They approached the relationship with us not from a transactional standpoint, but from really wanting to learn.”
Where you bank Makes a difference
Voting with your dollars, importantly, includes where you put your money when you aren’t spending it. “Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns,” activist Bill McKibben wrote for The New Yorker in 2019. And that oxygen flows through banks and asset management companies. So what your bank does with your deposits matters for the planet.
“The list of companies that really have the ability to help the fossil fuel industry is actually pretty short,” says Irzak. “So whether banks and financial institutions divest or not is actually a really big question for me as far as, ‘Do I want my money there?'”
What you read Makes a difference
Taking action starts with awareness. For those looking to dive deeper into climate action, the book Drawdown is widely viewed as an essential text. Published in 2017 by the environmentalist Paul Hawken, it summarizes 100 solutions to climate change. The Nation calls it “a great book that should have been written long ago.”
Jackson—who was confronted that same year by the urgency of climate change through the Northern California wildfires—points to the book as one of her own guiding stars.
“We are so bombarded with doom and gloom—and yes it’s scary, because we are up against something massive and existential,” she says. “But we are also in need of supporting, scaling, and funding solutions. If not for Drawdown, I think I might be in climate despair. But there’s actually so much we can do to turn this around. That’s what keeps me optimistic.”