The science writer Margaret Wertheim said in an interview last week: “We will not solve global warming and ocean acidification if we just freak ourselves out and end up huddling in corners in fear. We must find ways to collectively act, and constructively and positively act.”

These are wise words that remind me of something I have been thinking about for a long time: that one of the most important things those who are concerned about climate change can do is focus less on trying to persuade others of the threat and seriousness, or even the reality, of climate change–and much more on the things that make us feel empowered to do something about it.

For Wertheim, this is about engaging others in coral reef art projects. For the poet Mary Oliver, it is about writing about the beauty and wonder of life–reminding many of us why we not only need but love nature.

For others perhaps, it is about finding the one small thing we can do and doing it. Not berating ourselves for imagining it is not enough–but knowing that, if it is what we can do, then it is enough. (The likely alternative, after all, is to do nothing at all.)

When I first began to be concerned about climate change–primarily because I was worried about what it would mean for my children’s lives–I read all the lectures of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. Surely, I thought, there must be lessons to be found in the words of those who have triumphed in the face of other challenges. (This is, of course, true and continues to be a work in-progress.)

Recently, I reread the words spoken after the first Peace Prize was awarded to the International Committee on the Red Cross for its work spanning the years of World War II, 1939-1945. And this section, in particular, seemed relevant:

“The International Committee wishes to state publicly that the results it achieved measured up to all its hopes; but it also realizes that what has been given it do was, in the final analysis, of little significance when compared to the sum total of suffering it encountered in the course of its work. It strove to alleviate what misery it could; it tried to raise its flag above the ruins of the world to show that human hope should never falter.”

The point is that even in having achieved work worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, there was more that the International Committee on the Red Cross (at least, theoretically) could have done. But being unable to do everything never reduces the meaning of doing something.

There is also this we know about human beings: We are greatly influenced by what others do. So you never know how what you do today, however small it may be, might influence someone else.

For me, this has been one of the most important lessons learned along the path of overcoming fear of climate change.

How about you?

The Margaret Wertheim interview, The Grandeur and Limits of Science, appeared on Krista Tippet’s show, On Being. Listen here. Tippet also recently interviewed Mary Oliver; you can listen to that one here

5 thoughts

  1. I’m not afraid of climate change as such. I see it as a solvable problem, I guess because I’m an engineer with 40 years’ experience. To be honest, I am more worried about the amateurish and rather disorganized approach being taken. For example, there’s no reasonable way to stop greenhouse gas concentration from reaching 550 ppm, therefore there’s a need to research “escape hatches” such as geoengineering. But I see almost zero activity in the field.


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