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  • Holly Pittaway

Why individual action matters in the climate crisis

In a world where the rich few are largely responsible for the disastrous climate changes that affect the many, it’s easy to feel like your individual decision to go vegan or give up flying is a drop in the ocean. In fact, most people are completely deterred from taking individual steps because of a lack of global environmental action, and there is a certain logic to this – why should I have to give up meat if the government won’t impose sanctions on its mass-production? Why should I go fly-free when millions of others still fly abroad every year for their holidays unimpeded? Why should I boycott fast fashion when there are no rules in place to ensure the industry conducts due diligence into supply chains?

However, these debates seem to be coming to an end, as more and more evidence suggests that individual action does matter in combatting the climate crisis.

In 2017, a research paper by Steve Westlake of Birkbeck University, found that when leaders and influencers gave up flying in order to cut their emissions, the people around them were likely to do the same, or at least reduce their reliance on air travel. In fact, half of respondents who knew someone fly-free said that they fly less as a result, and these effects increased if the person was high profile. Of course, the paper also recommended collective changes be made to systems of travel by governments and higher bodies, but the conclusion was clear; ‘whatever the outlook of the individuals in question, this research indicates that leading by example…can send a powerful and effective message.’

A similar study in 2019 showed the need for a combination of individual and systemic change to fight the climate crisis, particularly among celebrities and individuals in the public eye. “Our new research showed that the carbon footprints of those communicating the science not only affects their credibility, but also affects audience support for the public policies for which the communicators advocated,” said Professor Elke Weber, the associate director for education at Princeton’s Andlinger Centre for Energy and the Environment. We can probably all pinpoint hypocritical moments from prominent activists that turned the public against their message, like when Meghan Markle and Prince Harry gave a lecture about climate change before setting off in their private jet.

Yet with evidence mounting, why has climate education not caught up? Most governmental climate strategies depend on the use of future unproven technologies to reduce emissions within a few decades – but what is the action for now? A 2017 paper highlighted the ineffectiveness of this government response, citing four key immediate individual actions that should be pushed by institutions as well, with these being; 1) having one fewer child, 2) living car-free, 3) avoiding airplane travel, and 4) eating plant-based.

At The Climate App, everything we do is motivated by individual action – it’s the very reason we set out to create an app that puts ordinary people at the forefront of the climate movement, because we know that change can’t be put on hold till 2050. Right now, we are still in our crowdfunding phase, which is why we need your help to make our carbon-cutting chain reaction a reality, because every individual action counts when it comes to climate change. Contribute now via Indiegogo.


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©2019 by Samuel Naef