For our communities to successfully transition from unsustainable practices, such as burning our finite supplies of fossil fuel for power, to sustainable practices, such as harnessing naturally replenishing sunlight for power, we need change agents with the knowledge and experience necessary to make wise choices on pathways to sustainability.

A change agent is a person who helps a group change. Whether you are helping your household change from cooking with a gas range to cooking with an all-electric induction range, helping your local school district change from tossing everything in the garbage to composting some food waste or helping your whole town change from paying clean-up costs after every major storm to becoming more resilient to extreme weather events, you are a change agent.

Across the United States, we’re starting to change how we power our economy, move people and packages, and feed everyone in our society. Each of us can pursue one of three courses of action in the face of these changes: one, make use of our time, talents, and treasure to be a well-informed change agent to help our communities transition; two, fight as a change antagonist to hold off change as long as we can; or three, avoid the struggle and let someone else decide the fate of our family, organizations, neighborhoods, nation, and planet.

The burden of proof is and should be on change agents as advocates for doing things differently. To make a persuasive case, change agents can’t be poorly informed. In the debate between change agents and change antagonists, the antagonists have the advantage.

Change antagonists can speak from personal experience about the benefits of the way things have always been. They can call experts to testify on behalf of past practices and industries that have worked out ways of solving problems over years, decades, or even centuries.

Familiarity favors change antagonists who want to slow down or stop change. On the other hand, our world is constantly changing. That’s an advantage for change agents. Practices that used to work just fine will stop working. We’ll be able to burn fossil fuel until one day we won’t–either the accumulated pollution will catch up to us, or the costs of extracting, refining, and transporting fuel will become unaffordable. Here in my home state of Maine, we got a taste of this with spikes in electricity prices due to spikes in natural gas prices.


The investment I made in solar for my home became even more valuable when the price of electricity went up. While I was solarizing our home, some of my neighbors were converting their homes from fuel oil to natural gas–tightening the grip of fossil fuel on our community. That shows the importance of change agents having the knowledge and experience to make wise choices. Even well-intentioned change agents can do more harm than good for environmental sustainability when they listen to entertainers, politicians, and corporations more carefully than scientists.

Understanding mathematical and scientific principles, such as the fact that destroying finite resources and emitting pollution are not sustainable practices, allows us to know which stories to believe as the basis for positive action and which to dismiss as yarns for self-promotion. If we pay more attention to sustainability scientists than to gas utilities, we can understand why bringing new natural gas lines into our homes would be a costly mistake.

Our generation is fortunate to live in an era where free public education, including years of instruction in math and science, is provided to every resident. Many people throughout history have given their lives to ensure that we have access to the accumulated wisdom of the ages and can use the scientific method to predict the future more accurately than we can without science.

We have the power to be change agents; and if we choose to use our education in math and science to make wise choices, we can be change agents who are making a positive difference for a sustainable future.

Fred Horch is principal adviser for Sustainable Practice. To learn how you can be a change agent for environmental sustainability in your community, visit SustainablePractice.Life and subscribe to “One Step This Week.”

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