I once vowed never to fly again. I then promptly fell in love with a woman on the other side of the Atlantic. I have been flying regularly and feeling terrible about it ever since. I don’t share this story to make excuses. But I do share it because it contains an important if inconvenient truth:
Even the most hardcore climate advocate is forced to exist in a world that runs on fossil fuels.
Opponents of climate action are all too happy to use this dynamic to their advantage. Say one word about the climate crisis, or the need to divest from fossil fuels, and you’ll be met with questions about how you traveled to work today, or where the electricity powering your computer comes from. Even if you are just beginning to learn about the issue, there’s a good likelihood that you’ve received more advice on changing your diet or refusing straws than you have on activism, advocacy, or organizing.
In other words, you’ve been told how not to contribute so much to the problem, but not necessarily how you can be most effective in actually fixing it. Yet we are not each on a mission to cut our personal carbon footprint to zero. Rather, we are on a collective mission to slash the only real footprint that counts: that of society as a whole.
So while it can be helpful to show characters biking, eating a vegan diet, or installing solar panels, we can also broaden our understanding of what it means to move toward solutions. That might mean more focus on collective action—like protesting or organizing or voting—or it might mean simply depicting or talking about the ways our system makes it hard to live green. (Have you tried giving up flying, anyone?!) And it almost certainly means thinking about “green” less as a symbol of a character’s personal virtue, and more as a necessary adaptation to the world in which we now live.