The question of what to do about climate change is often framed as two opposing absolutes.
The first is this: What can I do, as a sole actor with some control over my personal choices and actions? There’s also an activist variant of this one: What can I do if I join a group of, say, nonviolent protesters?
The second is less personal, more passive, and — it is often argued — actually more realistic: What can be done by people with special skills or positions, such as engineers, politicians, and CEOs?
But we might consider a third option, one somewhere in the middle: What could I do if I tried something big? What if I found some way to scale up my actions, to expand solo into larger-than-solo, ordinary into extraordinary?
Greta Thunberg is such a person — a schoolgirl who galvanized young people around the world, commanded the attention of millions, and energized action everywhere. So is Bill McKibben, a journalist who made climate change his business and ended up not just writing but also organizing on a large scale.
Here are stories about a few of the many others who have followed this third track, people less famous but at least as inspiring. Their diverse backgrounds and the varied paths they’ve forged add up to a remarkable illustration of what is possible.
- “One man’s lonely quest to save the world’s corals draws a following.” Rebecca Tan, Washington Post. About Anuar Abdullah, a “coral gardener” from Malaysia.
- “Idle Threat: Man on Emission.” About George Pakenham, New Yorker, banker, self-styled vigilante, citizen gadfly, filmmaker, children’s book writer. This hourlong video (by Pakenham) moves from one man’s solo acts through their expanding effects.
- “He couldn’t install solar at home, so he helps nonprofits do it instead.” Allison F. Takemura, Canary Media. About John Smillie of Indiana, volunteer extraordinaire.
- “Southern Spain’s green-belt project aims to stave off impending desertification.” Gerry Hadden, The World. About farmer Agustin Bermejo and biologist Fernando Bautista, working together to restore a woodland, influence the neighbors, and contribute to a big, ambitious plan.
- “Kristal Hansley is the first Black woman to launch a community solar company and did so on Juneteenth.” Kenny Williams Jr., Blavity. Interview with this Maryland entrepreneur.
- “Any job can be a climate solutions job: Ask this teacher, electrician or beauty CEO.” A Martínez, Ally Schweitzer, Lisa Weiner, Arielle Retting, NPR. About Americans Carolyn McGrath (New Jersey), Nate Johnson (California), and Ciara Imani May (Missouri).
- “This hairdresser gives lessons on how to discuss climate change with clients.” Dannielle Piper, CBC Canada. About Australian Paloma Rose Garcia.
These three collections offer dozens more inspirational profiles of beyond-solo actors:
- Youth Climate Action, Canada’s National Observer, Patricia Lane and others. An amazing collection of 144 stories of young people taking action in many, many different ways. (It’s also, by the way, an illustration of Canada’s diversity).
- Every year since 2016, Grist Magazine has selected its Grist 50, U.S. residents who are working on big challenges, including climate change, and “doing something extraordinary.” The variety is striking and the stories energizing.
- Similarly, but with a global reach and a large monetary award, the Earthshot Prize (established by England’s Prince William and David Attenborough) recognizes leaders, activists, innovators, and “forward-thinking communities making a real difference.” All five categories, not just the one so labeled, are related to climate; winners and finalists tend to be entrepreneurial.
If you’re ready to get started, don’t miss these two articles from Yale Climate Connections:
- “Sorting things out: Go ‘big’ or ‘small’ on climate solutions?” by SueEllen Campbell
- “What can YOU do about climate change? Take this quiz to find out,” by Kathleen Dean Moore and SueEllen Campbell.