Written By: Dana Decent
Why do we keep hearing that individual actions don't matter?
Faced with the scale of transformation required to address climate change, many agree that personal behaviour changes on their own are not enough to lead the critical shift toward a low-carbon future. Collective action, on an unprecedented scale, is often perceived as the only way forward. In addition, we need to rapidly deploy existing solutions - policy, tech and planning solutions - that make it easier for individuals to take action. Cyclists are far more likely to ride my bike when they feel safe, for instance.
We need collective action and these solutions in place now. Yet individual action is still urgently required to address climate change, and indeed it is often necessary for collective action to occur.
1. Successful movements need something to fight FOR, not only AGAINST.
We may support environmental groups who take a stand for climate through actions like protests and rallies. At the same time, individual actions to reduce a carbon footprint, to live a more sustainable life, and to foster a vibrant community are just as important as they help us create a vibrant, prosperous and sustainable world to live in. By taking these actions, we help create the world we want to see, and we invite others to join in. You can make a stand about what you dislike and what you like and want to see, changing hearts and minds along the way.
2. Taking individual action validates a belief in our own agency, which can help lead to collective action.
Our choices are often dictated by the design of our environments and the circumstances where we exist and at times it can feel that external situations control our choices . We are more likely to reuse containers to buy items in bulk if there is a place selling bulk items (e.g. soap, food) nearby. At the same time, to say individual actions do not matter can become a limiting factor to a sense of agency and belief in your own power. When you believe your own actions do not matter, this can lead to apathy, which kills collective action.
3. All actions matter now.
With the climate crisis upon us, all actions add up. We have to drastically reduce our emissions immediately. So if you choose to bike instead of drive, that makes a difference - you will have reduced carbon emissions that otherwise would have occurred. At this point in our climate crisis, every action is needed, big and small.
4. Individual actions inspire others to act, often in ways we may not foresee.
We all need role models whose values and actions often transcend time and places. This view is beautifully articulated by the author Rebecca Solnit:
“Who did Greta Thunberg describe as a key influence on her actions? Rosa Parks. That a black woman born in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1913 would influence a white girl born in Sweden 90 years later to take direct action about climate change is a reminder that everything is connected, and your actions matter even when the results aren’t immediate or obvious. The way Rosa Parks broke the rules and lived according to her ideals still matters, still has power, still has influence beyond what she could have imagined, beyond her lifetime, beyond her continent, beyond her particular area of activism.”
The importance of role models is so important, yet often overlooked. We need others who show us alternatives who inspire us to be stronger and to speak up.
Collective action is needed, yes. Solutions to make it easier to take individual actions are needed, yes. Alongside all of that transformative work is the other part of the puzzle: individual action. It supports, strengthens, expands, and inspires; having an impact far beyond what we might originally think.
*For more information about how to find community and understand how your individual actions matter, consider joining Carbon Conversations TO.
**Thank you to the following for their inspiration in writing this blog: Tania Cheng, Jeremy Steffler, Brianna Aspinall and Erick Dransch.
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