Fighting On Our Own Climate Fronts
...Because Environmental Action Doesn’t Have to Only Look Like Political Protests and Planting Trees
I’m not going to give you the spiel on how we’re living through a climate crisis. I’m sure you know the key global impacts and looming headlines by heart. Chances are, you are also probably sick of calls for action going unheard. I ask you to bear with me on this one.
With COP26 (aka the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) having come and gone with no stunning breakthroughs, there is a lot of disappointment towards the lack of progress, even if steps were taken in the right direction. I understand the frustration. My home country, Thailand, has declared a green economy plan part of the national agenda. And yet, Thailand did not sign a declaration to halt deforestation by 2030 or join the Global Methane Pledge, despite support for these movements by more than a hundred countries, including from our ASEAN neighbors. The lack of commitment makes me wonder if Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-o-cha was there to do more than take photographs. But ultimately, mulling in my room wasn’t going to do anyone much good. So I figured I should put my pen to paper—or more accurately, fingertips to keyboard.
While yes, it is up to governments to pass legislation to make sure we meet climate goals and prevent the worst of climate change, there are better things to do than wait. Climate action doesn’t have to look like volunteering to plant trees or taking part in demonstrations. Climate change is pervasive, affecting every part of our lives. We must face the issue on several fronts, regardless of scale.
Your front can be political. Voting for officials and politicians that endorse climate mitigation and action is a crucial step in having large-scale legislative progress. Asian Americans are becoming a powerful force in American politics and can even have the power to swing elections. If you have the right to vote, use it when you can, even for smaller, more local elections. Change has to happen on all levels.
Even international students have political power. Sure, voting and financially supporting campaigns are off the table, but there are other actions within the political sphere a non-US citizen can take. Joining demonstrations and protests, supporting voting efforts, and, most importantly, having the important conversations are the softer, but equally crucial forms of political advocacy. If you’re like me and have been afraid to even talk about American politics due to being an “outsider,” don’t be. Learn the ropes, engage in the talks, and perhaps your words will reach someone.
For some people, the front might be more personal lifestyle changes. Going vegan/vegetarian or incorporating “low carbon” habits (eg. carpooling, using public transportation, having energy-efficient lighting) are common options and there are dozens more. The small actions can help you feel like your lifestyle more closely aligns with your environmental values. When it comes to these habits, do what you can and don’t beat yourself up about them as not all are financially or logistically feasible to everyone. Even sharing positive environmental stories on social media can be helpful as it breaks the sea of doom-and-gloom and shares the rays of hope we still have.
The mental battles of the climate crisis are fronts that not enough people talk about. While not yet officially categorized as a mental illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, forms of environmental and climate anxiety affect people around the world. Asian communities often struggle with dismantling mental health stigma and providing the right mental health support. But with Climate Anxiety and environmental grief weighing us down, institutions and infrastructure need to be available to support the emotional burden of the climate crisis. There is also a need to fight against the overwhelming whiteness of climate anxiety to ensure that climate justice doesn’t propagate white privilege. Without strong psychological support, we may become too overwhelmed to take action or fall into despair, losing ourselves before we lose the planet.
The common backlash to these sorts of actions is, “why bother?” It’s the actions of one person in a sea of billions, what difference would it make? These actions must be done on a large scale by the wider population and by major corporations to have a proper impact. My question is what are we supposed to do after we hear those words? Nothing? That option doesn’t sound appealing either. The book A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety (I highly recommend it) offers a different perspective: one cannot possibly know the exact impact of their actions because they can be invisible to you, but tangible somewhere else. So instead of defeating your own actions, have faith that someplace, somewhere, you’ve made the world just a little bit better.
As government efforts trickle down from the top of legislation, we are the people who build change from the bottom up. Find the calls of action that are best fit for you physically, emotionally, financially, and take them up. Whatever is in your reach is where you have power. Friends and family, nearby schools and stores, local communities you interact with or pass by every day. Climate change stretches to each and every single one of us, so we all have a role to play in its solutions. As we each take our own different approaches to climate change, we do so in solidarity.