Collectively, we have lost our way. Across the world, greenhouse gas emissions are rising to levels that threaten other species, biodiversity, and ourselves. We have failed to understand how polluting industries and constant economic growth cannot coexist with sustainable living if profit and materialism remain the focus. We have failed to acknowledge how low-income countries will suffer in extreme and overwhelming ways if the prosperous and democratic West cannot pave the way for everyone to find a livable future.
And perhaps most pertinently, we have lost faith in a way forward together beyond our own individual lives. Faith in God, or what other traditions call inter-being or collective purpose, has been lost in the global move towards individualism that pervades many aspects of Western life. But individualism is a toxic epidemic that sears through society and isolates people from each other. With our individualistic outlook on life, people all over Canada are feeling overwhelmed, imagining they are personally responsible for systemic problems.
The way forward involves us seeing beyond ourselves and organizing our local communities. We must take responsibility for the actions we have taken, and we must also work to support others in our communities to do the same. Rather than relying solely on governments or corporations for change, we need to first become agents of change in our local communities.
Moving forward, Canadians should prioritize the development of an appreciative, respectful and compassionate relationship with the world. Eating less meat that is produced unsustainably, and using public transportation when possible are two meaningful steps we all can take to develop a better relationship with the natural environment.
At the same time, we must avoid feeling like we are solely responsible for the entire climate crisis. Anxiety and guilt for a systemic problem breeds inaction and hopelessness. The way forward is one created through action in communities and hope through collective change.
It is worth noting the difference between organizing and mobilizing in this context. Frequently, grassroots organizations seek to mobilize people around a particular issue, like community clean-ups or voting for a greener political party. While these initiatives result in great participation in an event and can work towards a particular policy goal, they often fail to compel people to look at their own lives after the event and seek ways to live a better, more faithful, and environmentally sustainable life.
Organizing is fundamentally about supporting and empowering communities to identify ways to make change. To stave off the climate crisis, we need to let go of our preconceived notions about the right way for others to become politically active, or the “necessary” changes they need to make in their lives. Instead, we need to get to know our community members; we need to understand what issues matter to them, and how we can move them from caring about an issue to understanding how to leverage our collective power to bring about lasting change.
Organizing, unlike mobilizing, builds power from the bottom-up and creates momentum that can transform communities from passive recipients of services or programs to active agents of change. That process of transformation can help us address the climate crisis and also reduce social isolation through building stronger communities.