If you’re like me, you’re thinking about never reading the news again because it’s so depressing, scary and confusing. I want to help but I don’t know what to do, and everyone’s pointing fingers at everyone else. Heat waves and record high temperatures out west. More than half of animal species at risk. Climate migrants at our borders fleeing or dying from drought and upheaval in their home countries. The freaking ocean is on fire.

It seems hopeless. Well, it’s not, humans are perfectly capable of making positive, purposeful change. But it is beyond urgent that everyone is making good decisions and taking action every day in relation to climate change and everything that is happening in relation to the changes. Most of the negative things happening are directly connected and related to human behavior. What does that even mean though? How do we tackle the biggest problems of our lifetimes? Well, there are three good habits you can work on that will help you do your part to meet these challenges.

First, we can and must fight unwanted disruptive change with purposeful individual AND systemic change. Pretending like something isn’t happening while it’s happening right in front of our faces is unproductive and unhelpful, and frankly dishonest. Everything is constantly in motion so there’s no point in fighting against change by denying it, and we should be aware and accountable when our behavior causes harm to others or nature. In fact, we all must take responsibility as American citizens and decent human beings to be aware of the change that is underway to the best of our ability and to act accordingly. It’s alarming and undesirable to think that we are causing harm and therefore must change our behaviors, but the great thing is this: we can make changes that are good in every way, for us and others and nature, and in the long and short term. We fight the chaos by purposefully making good decisions that are good for us in the short run and will also help reduce the chaos in the long run. That means we’re changing how we live our lives in terms of what we buy and how we behave, but it also means we have to consciously fix the systems that sustain us. We can’t always know exactly what’s going to happen but it’s sensible and responsible to be prepared.

Second, we can use a simple system of checks to determine if something is at least taking us in the right direction, and has a worthwhile purpose. When we’re looking at a behavior, making a decision, thinking about sharing a post or news article, or trying to determine if something is good or bad (or right or wrong), look at the following three criteria together:

  1. Climate: is whatever we’re looking at good for the climate, meaning good for nature, meaning clean air and water, meaning protecting animals and biodiversity? If it’s harmful in any way, we have to find a better way. It’s totally possible. Humans are part of nature, not separate from it. We don’t “have” to do things that are harmful because someone tells us there’s no other way. Of course there are other ways. People can change, and things can change, sometimes it takes time and effort.
  2. Economy: Is what we’re looking at going to be good for the economy, and that means good for the regular person and more spread out, not just big business? For example, we don’t “have” to stick to the old ways of maximizing profits for shareholders, I mean that’s not a law, it’s just something that people made up. B-corps and worker cooperatives already are doing better here. We can use our creativity and make up new, better ways for getting the things we need and want. We need economic solutions that don’t funnel all the money to the top and leave everyone else fighting for the scraps and unable to get the basic needs of life. There are lots of ways to do things that share profits, create jobs, and do all kinds of positive things, not just for the billionaire CEO’s and shareholders. We can fix this, or we can at least do our best trying.
  3. Humanity: is what we’re looking at harmful to humans? Not just in terms of human health, but also those things like mental health and feeling a sense of belonging? When we see that prices are going up at McDonalds, maybe instead of getting mad and driving off we think about how their workers are now getting paid $12, closer to a living, dignified wage. Or we reject shareholders foisting their cut in profits onto the consumer and buy from a local burger joint. Places like McDonalds and Walmart are not the problems per se, it’s the people and how we’re treating each other, sometimes in just outright wrong ways, or the laws that have been put in place that give big corporations an unfair advantage to influence how people live. It’s complicated, there’s not always a “right” answer, and there are trade-offs and different choices we can make. But in any case we absolutely can and should take the time and effort to value human life and well-being over corporate profits.

Third, we must ensure that we are getting our information on which we base our decisions from trusted sources. The truth is out there, but sometimes it’s hard to find. You might count on a friend or your pastor or a scientist or our own research for the truth. We have to make sure wherever we get our information, that they are using the 1/2/3 checks above, and not saying things that aren’t true for whatever reason. They may be trying to exploit attitudes for their own personal or financial gain, or they may be misguided by fear or ignorance (lack of true information). This is extremely common in our society.

For example: despite knowing for decades now that burning oil and gas was screwing up our atmosphere in really bad ways, oil, gas and coal companies have been deliberately misleading the public, just like cigarette companies did. This is how they protect their profits, at any cost to our society. “A few of you may die so we can make lots of profits, but that’s a risk we’re willing to take” is their motto. Well, that’s just not OK. Also, there are different levels of truth and this can be use to confuse us and kick us off the track. For example, it’s true that burning fossil fuels has raised our standard of living and taken may people out of poverty. It’s also true that it’s damaging to the environment and people’s health, and we have found better ways of doing it that won’t cause the same levels of harm. It’s also true that pumping old and gas through pipelines is safer than sending it by train, but this statement does not belie the fact that we are causing damage by burning stuff we don’t actually don’t need to burn in the first place. Another example: switching to electric vehicles causes less air pollution that causes all kinds of health problems, and is cheaper and less polluting in the long run even if you’re plugging your EV into the electric utility that is burning coal. We can’t fix everything at once, but we do now have alternatives that we can move towards instead of fighting over things that will still cause the same problems at the end. We can and should choose better, smarter ways that cause less harm. We don’t have to believe that we have to do things a certain way, or that just because we’ve always done it that way we still should. We have to be able to make the best possible decisions based on the best truth that we can. Here’s a tutorial on checking sources in relation to energy and fossil fuels.

This is not someone else’s problem to work towards purposeful change, it’s each and every one of us who needs to take up this responsibility as Americans, or we’re going to head back to the dark ages. If you don’t believe this, the mega-billionaires out there do. They’re setting up safehouses and strategies for when the sh*t hits the fan and our society falls apart, because their high-priced financial advisers and consultants are telling them that there is a high risk that the sh*t is going to hit the fan. They know it but they do their best at keeping the rest of us in the dark so they can keep making money at any cost to the long-term health of our society. But how is that going to really protect them when they’re isolating themselves? We have to work together as a society, because we live in a society with all kind of different people. We have to be aware as individuals what’s actually happening out there and take responsibility for making good decisions. This literally means that when we hear about a headline on the news, from a friend or in the paper, we should 1) take up the responsibility to get to the truth of what’s happening, 2) use our checklist to make sure something’s good for climate/economy/humanity, and 3) make sure we’re using trusted sources of information. 

Protecting nature and animals and making life more economically comfortable and fulfilling for ALL is not something that should divide us, unless we’re seriously selfish and out of touch with reality. It’s not weak, soft or shameful to show care towards other human beings and nature. For some reason, it’s a really unpopular opinion and regarded as alarmist or ignorant that we should take responsibility for reducing harm in every choice we make. That’s the main thing that exploitative organizations and people are preying on, so we have to use our personal powers to make sure we’re not getting used for someone else’s or our own selfish gain. No one is going to be perfect here, we just have to at least do our best to be true to ourselves and others. Nothing is black and white but it’s totally possible to make good choices about what to actually believe and how to act on those beliefs.

So when we read those depressing, scary, confusing headlines, instead of feeling hopeless and giving up, use these rules of thumb in order to start to change your habits. Find out the truth so you can take meaningful action to contribute to purposeful change that is absolutely the critical challenge of our lifetime.

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