Earth Day Thing
Food and Environment Portfolio Manager
I recently read a smart article by David Roberts at Grist entitled “Everybody Needs a Climate Thing.” Roberts helps explain how difficult it is for people to wrap their minds around climate change, because it touches every aspect of our lives. As a result, the issue of climate change subsumes all other issues that we might deeply care about and connect with on a more personal level (like bird conservation or protecting rain forests). This can make us feel helpless to make a difference. As we know, helplessness can quickly morph to hopelessness, which all too frequently leads to inaction and apathy.
I often sit and think about what it would take for people to feel a sense of urgency — but not hopelessness — about climate change. I like the idea of everyone having what Roberts calls “A Thing” they care about — a personal priority that is aligned with climate change, making a macro problem slightly more tangible to our daily lives. But I’m not sure everyone having their own thing will get us there.
Recently Peter Singer spoke at Stanford University about Effective Altruism. Mid-way through the talk, he mentioned the need for people to find a way to care about and do something to help people, not just in their own backyards, not just those around them they care about, but people they don’t know, halfway around the world.
So what if our “thing” was each other. What if we felt so connected to other human beings that we wanted all people to have access to healthy affordable food, get fair wages, receive a quality education, and feel safe? What if this Earth Day, we not only thought about how to protect the earth, but also the people on it?
The environmental movement has made great strides in expanding its scope — what was once a relatively small community of activists has matured into an urgent global conversation that includes all sectors, both public and private.
But now it feels like the tent has to get bigger, and more and more people need to see how they are part of this movement that touches every aspect of our lives. If each of us found ways to connect to others, to feel compassion for people we have never met, would we make progress on climate change? Would more people join the movement because it is no longer about climate change, but actually about us?