As we face the awful exigencies of the climate crisis, there are choices to make in how we direct our limited capacity to respond. Our tendency, on the American environmental scene, has been to focus on our role as individual components of a destructive system. Respond to climate change, we have preached, by reducing your personal share of the impact — use less electricity, drive less, fly less, eat less meat, and divest from or boycott environmentally destructive corporations. Most consideration of adaptation is on a level that most people can only participate in through political deliberation — should cities build sea walls, or should the Fish and Wildlife Service assist migration?
Lately I’ve come to realize that this focuses my limited time and energy into exactly those areas where I have the least power and significance. And given the inevitability of a great deal of climate disruption and temperature increase, there is a lot of other work which rather desperately needs attention. I speak of building resilience and a greater capacity to respond into my local community and my own household. More resilient households and communities may be the greatest resource we can pass on to our children and theirs. There are not so many prepackaged scripts on how to do this — it will require creativity and sensitivity to local context. But local readiness is much more in our power to influence, than international politics or transnational business behavior ever will be.
Some actions taken to build resilience and capacity will align with traditional footprint reduction. If I grow more staple crops in my garden, for instance, then I reduce my share of big ag pollution while also increasing food security. Some actions will be footprint neutral, like cultivating more cooperative activities with my local neighbors. Some resilience actions might even have a footprint cost. Perhaps I should add another bedroom on the house, so that I can more readily welcome refugees. (Please do not take me as endorsing the more antisocial aspects of prepper culture. Resilient communities require a large stock of trust and well-practiced mutualism, not fear mongering.)
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t worry about your footprint or participate in national politics. But maybe showing up at your city or county government meetings is a better use of your time than debating the green new deal on facebook. And maybe, given the choice between buying the most efficient car or getting out of debt, the climate realist should choose getting out of debt.