For all the words, images, and video coming out of Copenhagen this month, I’m not sure anything is so clear and helpful as an op-ed in the Dec. 6 Washington Post, “To really save the planet, stop going green all alone.” If you’re going to forward one climate article to your sister in Dallas this week, make it this one.

Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, explains why climate change requires national laws and structural responses such as cap-and-trade. It won’t be solved by personal green gestures like switching light bulbs and taking cold showers. So those who want to do something should focus on getting laws passed.

Tidwell uses a great historical analogy:

The country’s last real moral and social revolution was set in motion by the civil rights movement. And in the 1960s, civil rights activists didn’t ask bigoted Southern governors and sheriffs to consider “10 Ways to Go Integrated” at their convenience.

To show that “going green” personally is a damnable approach, he writes:

For eight years, George W. Bush promoted voluntary action as the nation’s primary response to global warming — and for eight years, aggregate greenhouse gas emissions remained unchanged.

So:

Don’t spend an hour changing your light bulbs. Don’t take a day to caulk your windows. Instead, pick up a phone, open a laptop, or travel to a U.S. Senate office near you and turn the tables: “What are the 10 green statutes you’re working on to save the planet, Senator?”

Here at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, there’s a refreshing absence of nagging exhortations to “go green” in the sense that Tidwell picks apart. There are events and conversations about renewable energy, carbon markets, how to ensure countries all do their fair share—dry but consequential stuff. Nobody tells you to unplug your cell-phone charger, or refuse to use napkins—the things that won’t add up to a solution until long after we’re all fried. The people who have invested their careers in solving this problem understand that it’s structural change—big change—that matters.