The Problem with Climate Change

How to Stop Climate Change (Really!)


Climate change is terrifying. There’s no way around that, but framing this in a vague, “we’re doomed” way doesn’t help anyone. When we talk about it that way — and that’s been the dominant rhetoric for a while now — it makes it feel impossible to find a solution. The reality, though, is that incremental change makes a real difference. Every 10th of a degree rise that we can avoid adds up, and there are a variety of changes that can get us there.

As we talked about on our Climate Change episode, these are big shifts that need to be made. It will require a massive and organized effort to make it work, but we can totally do it, should we decide we’re not interested in living underwater. Let’s look at some of the things we need to do to get there.

The Solution? Changing our energy production

As Jesse Jenkins laid out on our panel, one of the main keys to pulling back climate change is transitioning to clean energy sources and expanding our electrical grid. This means massive changes across pretty much every sector — how we get around, how we heat and cool our spaces, how we produce goods, how we produce food, and how we produce electricity.

We’ve already made some progress here: Solar and wind are great starts for greening our electricity and that helps run our electric cars and power our heat and air conditioning. But we need to improve clean energy technologies for things like planes, industrial processes, and long-haul trucking. As Jesse put it, “The energy system is so big that there is no silver bullet or magic technology that’s going to do all the work.”

Even oil companies have gotta fall in line

Since oil companies have played such a big part in driving us (pun absolutely intended) into this mess and have made bazillions doing it, it’s only natural to want to point our shame lasers right at them. Activists have done a great job of raising awareness by hitting them with lawsuits, putting public pressure on companies, and that’s even translated into investor pressure.

Oil companies need to be held accountable, but there are different ways to make that happen.  Calling them out for using their influence to block legislation that can move us to our goals faster, as Jesse said, is definitely something worth doing. But as Katherine Dixon put it, we need to move away from the “you win, I lose” framework and focus on cooperation within the whole system.

Basically if every entity in the system isn’t making better decisions and or being made to choose cleaner energy, we won’t be able to move in the right direction. 

Politicians need to use their power

We have all these different things that need to happen across different industries and different countries and it needs to still be affordable and profitable. Should be no problem at all… But yeah, as we have seen, individual humans have not proven terribly good at sacrificing for the greater good and companies are not known for sacrificing their profits for, well, any reason whatsoever.

The only thing powerful enough to override all this — to ensure that fossil fuel companies fall in line and that everything else goes as it needs to — is the federal government. As Jenkins put it on the panel, “So we need national policy that says we are going to do this differently. And we’re going to make it profitable for you to do it differently.” Of course, this isn’t just an American issue. These transitions need to happen across the world.

If we want to turn this around in time, politicians have to use their power to force us to change in the right direction. And it’s gonna have to be done in a way that is transparent and holds everyone accountable.

Everything depends on centering equity

There’s one really critical thing we need to focus on while pursuing all these solutions, which Heather Toney outlined perfectly on our panel:

“One of the biggest things that has to happen is centering equity in a way that people are included, and we’re building trust in this process. We get it, it’s not gonna happen overnight, but if equity is not centered then we are creating ‘sacrifice zones.’ And we gotta ask ourselves honestly, ‘Are we ok with continuing to have poor people, vulnerable people literally being our defense in terms of the climate crisis?’”

It cannot be down just to local groups — who most of the time are busy already dealing with the effects of climate change in their area — to scream loud enough that we notice them. Communities need to be involved in the decisions that affect them. They can’t just hope that governments and companies are going to fulfill their promises.

This also goes beyond just our immediate policy decisions and stretches into how enforceable legislation is and who has access to voting. As Heather mentioned on the panel, non-white people (who are disproportionately affected by climate change) are more likely to care about climate change than white people. And if they don’t have equal voting rights, that affects their power in the conversation. 

Now what do we actually do?

Nothing is going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time, and you alone are not responsible for saving humanity. The important thing is that we all start to focus our energy where it can be most effective: at those with political power. And start demanding that they address this urgently and fairly and transparently.

Of course, we shouldn’t stop acting in environmentally-friendly ways. But if we really want to make big changes, step one is pressuring your elected officials, from local offices all the way to the top. Step two is putting pressure on all these companies that say they’re going to go green by 2050 to actually follow through.

There are also tons of great organizations already fighting climate change that you can look to for resources. Here are a few to start with:

Environmental Defense Fund

Indigenized Energy Initiative

Net-Zero America

International Energy Agency