It’s hard to avoid hearing about floods, droughts, heat waves, fires and rising sea levels and not feel worried. If you’re concerned about climate change, you’re not alone. A recent survey of young people in 10 countries found that more than half reported feeling sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty about global warming (The Lancet,

Given that climate change is real and that our world is in trouble, I’ve asked myself, what can do?

A few years ago, I made changes in my personal life like recycling, using less plastic, eating less meat and installing a heat pump and insulation. But I didn’t do much else; I was concerned but pretty passive and inactive.

One day I asked my granddaughter, who was about 14, what she thought about global warming. “Oh, we learn about it in school,” she said. “We know it’s happening, but we don’t talk about it. I don’t want to think about it, because I don’t think anything will change.”

Talk about a wake-up call. I decided that I owed it to my four grandchildren to work more effectively on global warming so that they could feel more hopeful about their futures.

I learned that making changes in our personal lives is important, but it is not enough. We will only reduce carbon emissions to a livable level by making major changes in how we transport goods, grow food, power cars and build and heat buildings. This requires large-scale, coordinated action.


So I asked, “What can we all do?”

I discovered the idea of “active hope”: “Active hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have … it involves three key steps: First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the directions we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction. … Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide.” (“Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy,” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone).

This helped me move from just having good intentions to actually getting to work. After some research, I found the Portland chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby ( I like CCL because it promotes respectful and civil discussions and is nonpartisan, friendly and welcoming. CCL focuses on big solutions. Right now, we’re advocating for carbon cashback: putting a price on carbon emissions and returning the money to people via direct payments.

There are many organizations focusing on climate change. Some are local, others are national or international; some focus on land preservation and conservation, others on advocacy and legislation. There are good fits for progressives, conservatives, introverts and extroverts. You may already belong to a religious denomination, school or club that is working on climate change.

Working with others has many benefits. It helps us move from feeling helpless, anxious, angry or depressed toward feeling empowered. With others who share our concerns and commitment, we can build community, give each other support when we need it and magnify our impact. Two sayings apply here: “You can’t wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time,” and “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

The most important step is the first one.

Susan Payne is a resident of Cape Elizabeth and a member of Citizens Climate Lobby. 

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