Your climate journey & climate action guide
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re on a climate journey.
I think of a climate journey as the unique path each of us takes over time as we learn more about the planetary emergency and decide what to do about it.
I’ve been on my climate journey for nearly a decade now: reading, listening, researching, learning from climate leaders, asking questions, reflecting, talking, and minimizing my footprint.
Over the last four years I’ve tacked on writing, podcasting, speaking events, guiding people 1 on 1, organizing, attending conferences, and activism to inform minds, touch hearts, and inspire action on climate. I’ve been working to empower as many people as possible to help make our movement bigger, stronger, and faster.
What follows is a climate action guide that summarizes some of the most useful things I can think of to try and help someone on their climate journey.
It’s specifically for people who care about climate and want to keep leveling up their climate knowledge and impact – to do what they can to make a difference.
(As always, if you have any ideas on how to improve this resource, please do let me know as I’ll update it. Also, there’s a lot in here. I hope you take 1 or 2 things from this to start. And revisit it over time when you’re ready to integrate more.)
7 keys to an effective and sustainable climate journey
- Understanding your emotions & taking care of yourself.
- Crafting your climate story.
- Finding your place in the climate movement.
- Moving forward strategically with your team.
- Menu of effective actions & resources.
- Always keep learning & improving.
Understanding your emotions & taking care of yourself
“Honor your difficult feelings. You’re an animal whose life support system is in danger. It would be really weird to not be afraid or to not be furious about that. There’s intelligence in those feelings. Feel them, but don’t let them paralyze you. Let them move through and take them as information.” – Dr. Elizabeth Sawin
The planetary emergency is scary.
It can feel overwhelming. Or infuriating.
It can fill you with a deep sense of grief or hopelessness.
Whatever emotions you’re feeling, please know that you’re not alone in feeling them. And that these emotions are completely natural.
In fact, “navigating the emotional terrain of climate truth” is a critical, but often overlooked step to sustained well-being and effective action.
“The process of realizing the dire track of climate catastrophe we are on understandably rouses painful and even despairing emotions. This is ultimately a good thing because we all need to feel about this crisis and not only think about it, if we are going to burst through our defenses that otherwise thwart action.” – Dr. Britt Wray
So take the time to let yourself actually sit with and experience these emotions (instead of immediately looking away as we so often do to protect ourselves in the moment). Don’t get stuck on the emotions, but do examine them.
Ask yourself why climate change makes you feel this way.
I’ve found that, for me, after several layers of asking “why”, many of these feelings were actually rooted in one: love. Love for people, places, our home, and all life that we’re interconnected with.
Love is an extremely powerful motivator. And a renewable resource to be rooted in.
Sitting with and examining your emotions may not be the easiest thing to do, but it’s important because knowing the roots of these emotions will lead you to understand why, at its core, this matters to you.
Knowing this helps in many ways, including more effective conversations, advocacy, organizing, and making sure you’re taking steps forward on your climate journey on a path that’s right for you.
“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” – Socrates
“Whatever path you choose to engage with climate emotions – remember that feeling our feelings is part of climate work. To have our eyes wide open to both destruction and possibility takes courage. May we be fueled by ferocious love for all we can save.” – Gen Dread and The All We Can Save Project
I highly recommend you check out this amazing resource created by Gen Dread and The All We Can Save Project to help you navigate these emotions.
Once you’ve spent some time examining your emotions and finding your “why”, you’ll be better prepared to craft or fine-tune your climate story.
Crafting your climate story
Stories are powerful. They may be the best tool we have for connecting, communicating, understanding, and cooperating with one another.
So when it comes to building a movement, a small team, or rallying support to make positive change, they’re absolutely critical.
Sharing stories with each other helps spark and build strong relationships. And strong relationships are key to getting hard things done.
Whenever I have someone on the CS podcast, I start by asking about their story. I like to do the same when meeting people in the climate space. Similarly, when I give talks, I start by sharing my story with the audience.
This storytelling humanizes us, opens the door for deeper connections and collaborations with each other, and helps bring more people into the movement.
Some questions and quotes that may help you create or fine-tune your story:
- When did you start caring about climate?
- And why?
- Write down your thought process and any “a-ha” moments along the way.
“Orient yourself relationally, geographically, and vocationally. Think about all of the ways that climate change could really touch your life in any of those circles.” – Gabrielle Jorgensen
- Are you a parent or grandparent? Or maybe you want to be one someday?
- Where do you live? Is your home or community at risk of worsening storms, flooding, wildfires, heatwaves, drought, or sea level rise?
- What do you do for work? How might the planetary emergency put your industry or livelihood at risk?
- Or maybe you just like good, reasonably priced food, water, coffee, chocolate, or wine. That’s fine too.
Look for all the ways climate impacts who you are, where you’re from, what you do, and what you care about.
And then work this into your climate story and conversations. These inroads are far more personal and relatable. Meaning they’ll be far more powerful than any chart, statistic, or the latest research.
- Painting the picture of the better world you’re striving to rebuild is key as well. We can’t just be against things, we have to know what we’re for. Creating or co-creating this vision gives you and others something tangible to hope for and step towards.
- Consider writing a letter to someone you love in the year 2050, outlining how you feel and what actions you’ll take. Extremely powerful!
Finding your place in the climate movement
But what should you actually do? What’s the best way for YOU to meaningfully plug into the climate space?
I think this is where a lot of people get stuck. Which makes sense because the answer to this question is the dreaded, “it depends”.
Or the much more helpful, but still frustratingly vague answer:
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Teddy Roosevelt
Now, I don’t have specific answers either. Only you can figure out what the right path is for you given your unique situation.
But I can share some useful ways to think about it and provide questions to ask yourself in hopes that it may help make things easier and accelerate your journey.
I think the best place to start, or re-evaluate if you feel stuck, is by grabbing a pen, paper, and filling out the Venn diagram below that the brilliant Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson created.
This exercise is strategic because it highlights the intersection of three keys to discovering what action will be right for you:
- What needs to be done.
- What you bring to the table.
- What you genuinely like doing or care about – what energizes you.
You may not find your answer immediately, but making your own Venn diagram should at least help you get moving in the right direction!
“Climate touches everything. So stick to what you’re good at and what you love.” – Dr. Elizabeth Sawin
I wasn't able to strike today, which initially bummed me out.
But then I remembered there are so many ways I/you/we can do something about the climate emergency. All important.
— Megan Herbert (@meganjherbert) September 27, 2019
A few more thoughts on “the work that needs doing” circle.
It might help to review the top climate solutions identified by Project Drawdown to help spark ideas for this circle. They’ve grouped these solutions into three major buckets in The Drawdown Review – a useful framework for everyone to think about what we need to do:
- Reduce Sources: Bringing emissions to zero.
- Support Sinks: Uplifting nature’s carbon cycle.
- Improve Society: Fostering equality for all.
Equally important, because “solutions don’t scale themselves”, they outlined the top 7 accelerators for climate solutions:
- Shape culture.
- Build power.
- Set goals.
- Alter rules and policy.
- Shift capital.
- Change behavior.
- Improve technology.
This is another critical area of work and lens to explore!
I’d also strongly encourage you to look closely at your unique spheres of influence to see what work needs to be done there.
Think: your town, city, or state, your company, industry, school, organizations or communities you belong to, etc.
These are often the places where you have the most leverage, relationships, and power to accelerate action.
So ask yourself: Where do each of these places stand on climate? Which could have the largest positive impact? Where do you, or could you, have the most influence?
What you can help accomplish at these various places will also further accelerate action within their respective spheres of influence (e.g. your company’s competitors and industry, other schools in the district or conference, neighboring towns, etc. They will all take note and become more likely to follow suit!)
Note: Start your own thing if that’s what feels right or is necessary for your given idea, school, company, town, etc. But know there are also plenty of existing organizations or groups already doing great work that you can plug into and need your help so it’s worth seeing what’s out there first. Ask around! And search “climate change” or “sustainability” + your town, company, school, etc. to see what may already exist.
Either way, finding other people to work with is going to be key to getting things done!
Quick recap. Invest time asking yourself and looking into:
- What are you good at?
- What brings you joy? What are you most passionate about or interested in?
- What work needs to be done?
- Within your unique spheres of influence, what are your biggest levers to pull on for impact?
- Are there other people already working at this intersection that you can join?
Moving forward strategically with your people
Many of you may be on top of this already, but in case the reminder’s helpful, or if you’re just starting out, here are some quick hitters for you:
- Evaluate where your group’s area of focus (e.g. community, city, state, company, industry, school, etc.) stands on climate right now.
- Imagine the desired end state you’re working towards.
- Collectively paint the picture of how much better the place/organization you’re working on will be so people have something tangible to envision and step towards.
- Doing these two things broadly illuminates your A to B (where you are now and where you’re going).
- Identify and list top opportunities for action (what investment and policy decisions are needed?)
- Prioritize actions by impact, level of effort, and probability of success.
- Conduct a power mapping session: Who are the relevant decision-makers for what you’re trying to accomplish? How can you influence each decision-maker to take the actions needed? Who do they listen to? What do they care about?
- Map out the order of operations and what you’ll need to succeed.
- Create space and time for ongoing dialogue to bring others on board. Share and continue to co-create your vision. Connect with existing groups who share your vision, build momentum, and step towards it together. Bring other stakeholders to the table and get buy-in. This is all critical – do it early and often!
A few excellent, related resources for leaders and organizers:
- Project Inside Out – Engagement tools and principles from clinical psychologists for climate activists and advocates.
- The All We Can Save Project – Guides for deeper dialogue to build community around solutions.
- The Radical Support Collective – Coaching and training for social change leaders.
Menu of Effective Actions to consider
As outlined above, only you can decide what the best things are for you to do.
And it might not be something on the following list. But I believe this is a pretty good menu of ideas and resources to consider, share, and refer back to as needed.
Some resources & deeper dives for each of the actions listed above!
Talk about climate regularly
Each one of us can reach the people we know, and influence the institutions we’re a part of, better than anybody else can.
- Why it matters and tips.
- I’ve also written on the importance of, and tips for this many times including one on the spiral of climate silence and the specific sections in the following titled “The Ripple Effect: we are a highly social species”, “Be a guide for people – a partner”, and “Meet people where they are”.
Join a climate community
Working with others is critical! Google is your friend here for finding local or niche organizations. Here are some of my favorites to check out:
- The Sunrise Movement, 350.org, Extinction Rebellion, Fridays For Future, Third Act, Our Kids’ Climate, The All We Can Save Project, Work On Climate, and Climate Changemakers.
Activism – get involved in peaceful protests
Work on climate
Here are a few climate-focused job boards to help with the search!
Another angle is to work on making your entire profession/industry climate positive.
- This CS newsletter highlights 80+ climate-focused groups across 25+ professions. Use it to find resources and connect with other people in your field who are thinking about, talking about, and acting on climate as it relates to your industry.
Help to make your town/city climate positive
To be honest I’m still working on this one. I’d look for climate action plans of nearby or similar towns and the “move forward strategically with your team section”.
But here are two useful podcast episodes I’ve listened to recently. And I’m planning on reading “Climate Action Planning: A Guide to Creating Low-Carbon, Resilient Communities” soon which sounds extremely helpful.
Help to make your company climate positive
More fantastic resources:
- The Science Based Targets Initiative helps companies align operations with the Paris Agreement. CS interview with Nate Aden.
- Climate Voice is working “to mobilize the voice of the workforce to urge companies to go “all in” on climate, both in business practices and policy advocacy.” CS interview with Bill Weihl.
- Climate Action Tech is a community for people taking action in the tech space.
- Work for Climate is also creating resources for employees.
Help to make your school climate positive
I believe these are a few critical areas you could focus on. Getting your school to:
- Integrate more climate literacy and solutions into the curriculum.
- Divest from fossil fuels. And, ideally, reinvest in things that make your future better. (Resources: “How to run a campus divestment campaign”, Faculty/Staff Divestment network)
- Eliminate emissions as quickly and equitably as possible (STARS may help here).
Get climate champions into office, advocate for policy…or run yourself!
Orgs that will help you identify or support the strongest climate candidates:
- League of Conservation Voters – Typically make an environmental scorecard for candidates.
- Lead Locally – Supporting climate champions at the state and local levels.
- Climate Cabinet – Supports climate candidates and creates scorecards.
- Climate Slate – Identifies & supports top climate candidates.
- No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge – Getting fossil fuel influence out of politics (use their toolkit to get candidates running in your district to sign it).
- Climate Hawks – Identifying, training, and helping to elect climate leaders. Have a database for each state identifying which politicians at all levels are climate leaders.
Advocating for policy & general environmental voter turnout:
Running for something yourself!
(Some of the organizations in the first section will help with this too!)
Minimize your carbon footprint
- Apps to help you track your footprint: Earth Hero, Joro, Climate Action Now.
- Overview. This is one of the first things I wrote, but it’s still fairly good.
Divest from fossil fuel investments and switch to banks that have done the same
We need money flowing into things that are life-giving, rather than life-taking.
(Writing about this more in-depth soon and will update!)
Donate to nonprofits doing impactful work
Here are some of my favorite climate nonprofits.
Take care of your mental and physical well-being!
Thinking about and working on climate is hard. For your own well-being and for your ability to do good work over the long run, you’re going to need to prioritize taking care of yourself!
For the second time, I’m going to highlight this amazing resource from Gen Dread and The All We Can Save Project. Seriously, check it out! “Resources for working with climate emotions”.
Always Keep Learning
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Gandhi
“Everyone needs to be educated on climate change because climate change and our response to it is going to change the world over the next 25 years as much as the internet did in the last 25 years.” — Joe Romm
The following are lists of some of the best climate books, newsletters, podcasts, and documentaries. They’ll help you to better understand the quickly evolving planetary emergency, how it’s increasingly affecting everything, how society is responding, ideas for action, and much more.
It’s impossible to keep up with all of these consistently, so don’t overwhelm yourself. I just want to let you know what is out there that I know of and have found useful.
Other options: There are also lots of courses available online. Some are free, some are paid. If you’re thinking of this route, I’d recommend checking out Terra.do.
Final Thoughts, Mindset
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Quite frankly, we’ll be working on climate change and/or dealing with its consequences for the rest of our lives.
It’s overwhelming. There’s so much work to do.
But you don’t have to solve this on your own.
There are millions of us taking on different pieces of the puzzle. And more people are joining us every day.
Your actions are a critical part of something much bigger.
Everyone is needed and has something valuable to contribute. We all have different skills, networks, resources, and ideas to bring to the table.
We need people like you to step up and join forces with others to turn this ship around.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Throughout this journey, try to:
- Be kind to yourself and others.
- Always assume positive intent (unless it’s the fossil fuel industry and co.)
- “Do what you’re good at, and do your best.” – Mary Annaïse Heglar
- Breathe. Take one step at a time.
- Keep learning and increasing your positive impact as you go.
- Look for opportunities to multi-solve – for solutions with co-benefits.
- Know you’re not alone.
- Celebrate the wins.
- Understand that what you do truly does make a difference. You’re far more powerful than you realize.
- Find joy, do things you love, get out in nature, spend time with family and friends.
- Meditate, learn from Buddhism and Stoicism.
- Remember: “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.” – Octavia E. Butler
“Hang on to the possibility that we may be closer to transformation than we realize. Just keep going because you really don’t know.” – Dr. Elizabeth Sawin