Today I got a call from a rock concert producer. “We care about climate. We want to get the audience to act. What is the call to action?” This is a deceptively simply question, but it’s also THE question of our age. Meanwhile, I’ve been asked “what should I do?” by audience members, by seatmates on the plane, but nonprofit heads, by pro athletes.
And the answer has been blown–and continues to be blown–by the best of the climate crusaders. Gore blew it after Inconvenient Truth when the film listed a bunch of personal actions (he did include writing your senator) that won’t add up to much in the absence of policy action. Most nonprofit action lists blow it: drive your Prius, change the bulbs. Even those who don’t blow it, and know that this is about getting policy in place, and now after the election it’s about grassroots mobilizing and reaching policymakers with a message that supporting climate action is OK, even those groups blow it because “write your senator” really isn’t cutting it either. Maybe too few people are writing effectively, leaning too heavily on boilerplate sign-ons. Maybe they’re overwhelmed by the fossil fuel industry’s money. But it’s not cutting it.
So I’m asking you: when you give your talk, or host your concert, or talk to friends, or go home to your family: what is the call to action? I’ve had a stock answer that I’ve used, but I’m not sure it’s good enough. My answer is that you need to become a civic actor with the biggest club you can find. How? Get a bottle of bourbon, sit down, and think deeply, preferably with a friend, about what your biggest lever is. Obviously, if you’re Obama, that’s easy. You need to mobilize the nation on this issue. (He’s not doing it.) If you’re a senator or a policy maker, it’s easy too. Advance legislation. But what if you’re an average citizen? I believe even the most average of the average citizen has a big lever they aren’t aware of. Even if you’re a grandmother stuck at home, you can HAND WRITE a letter to a senator or a corporate leader. That’s easy. But most people have even bigger opportunities: a chance to join a town council, for example, or a planning and zoning board. From there, you could change building codes, or put in place a carbon tax locally. (Both have happened in many towns throughout the US.) In my area, you can run for the board of the electric utility, and drive them towards greener power. But people don’t do either of the last two options, typically, because they are so godawful boring and hugely time consuming. But that is just the point: solving climate is going to hurt. It’s going to be painful. And it won’t be sexy. Being on the planning and zoning board of Nowhereville is going to be living hell. Dumb people are going to hold forth for half an hour at a time. Other people are going to repeat what the person before them said for ten minutes at a time. You’ll be there for hours every session, with green brain fluid running out of your ears. It won’t be nearly as much fun as going dancing. But you’ll move the ball forward in ways you never imagined possible, you’ll be a real footsoldier in the most important war ever fought, and you’ll drop that crippling feeling of powerlessness you carry around with you like a stone.
Ok, that’s my best effort. But what is yours? What’s the call to action on climate, for the average person? How should the rock concert organize itself to best activate the audience? Do they all target James Inhofe with text messages, and make it so well known that they’re targeting that climate trog that it gets national press? Do they get Jim Hansen or Bobby Kennedy to speak? What do they do? What do we ask of the average citizen? During the civil rights movement, what was the call to action?
Get Grist in your inbox