The average American’s everyday interactions with energy sources are limited. They range from turning appliances on or off, to commuting, to paying utility bills.
The connections between those acts and rising global temperatures may seem distant.
However, individuals hold many keys to unlocking solutions to climate change – the biggest challenge our species currently faces – which is perhaps why the fossil fuel industry spent decades misleading and misinforming the public about it.
These actions combined could bridge the “emissions gap”: the significant difference between the greenhouse gas emissions expected globally and how much they need to drop in the next few decades to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Climate change is outracing government action
People have worked for decades to slow climate change by altering national energy policies. Several states, for example, have renewable portfolio standards for utilities that require them to increase their use of renewable energy.
But 30 years of evidence from international climate talks suggests that even when nations commit on paper to reducing emissions, they seldom achieve those cuts.
So if government, technology or geoengineering aren’t good answers, what are?
Pledges, goals and targets for shifting from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources are only as good as the efforts by utilities and governments to reach them. Citizen participation and action have proved effective at compelling decision-makers to act. For example, scholars studying the economic, political and social dynamics that led five U.S. municipalities to adopt 100% renewable energy found that grassroots citizen advocacy was one of the key factors that drove the change.
According to the Sierra Club, through citizen-driven action, over 180 cities, more than 10 counties and eight U.S. states have made commitments to transitioning to 100% renewable energy. Consequently, over 100 million U.S residents already live in a community with a 100% renewable energy target.
These steps include weatherization and using energy-efficient appliances, as well as energy efficiency measures such as turning down thermostats, washing laundry with cold water and air-drying it rather than using a dryer.
So since most governments aren’t acting quickly enough, and many technology and geoengineering solutions are still unproven or come with high risks, emission reduction goals won’t be achieved without incorporating additional strategies.
The evidence is clear that these strategies should include millions of average people factoring climate change into their everyday activities regarding their communities, purchases and personal energy use.
As the environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote in 2006 about dealing with climate change, “There are no silver bullets, only silver buckshot.”