By May Boeve, Executive Director, 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation has landed, and it paints a terrifying picture of the perils that face our precious world. Sobering moments like these can inadvertently provoke the compulsion to look the other way — to ‘not look up’. But on the other side of despair is action: the prospect of a whole new wave of policies consistent with the urgency this situation demands. We must remember the unprecedented climate action achieved by grassroots efforts in recent years, and recognize that while the hour may be late, the fight remains in our hands.

I remember the first time climate change truly clicked for me. On a warm sunny day in 2005, while I was at college studying political science, I suddenly realized that climate change would change everything: that it would require fundamental economic, diplomatic, political, and social transformation. This became the lens through which I understood the increasingly interconnected nature of the world — and the necessity for accelerated peacebuilding, multilateralism, and solutions to characterize this interconnectivity.

My chance to put theory into action soon arrived during the 2009 global climate summit in Copenhagen, COP15. My peers and I joined like-minded youth activists all over the world in organizing an unprecedented mobilization for climate action consisting of 5200 events in 182 countries. Our protests were guided by a science-based target: a limit of 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. (This is the number from which we took the unorthodox name of the organization I now lead:

While the protests were big, and got massive media attention, the politicians didn’t deliver. My fears had been realized. Our action had not amounted to enough, and it became clear that we were going to have to work harder, smarter, and that we had significant obstacles to overcome in our mission to clean up the climate catastrophe.

The latest IPCC report underscores what financial and human damage runaway climate impacts have done and will continue to do to communities, especially those with the least resources to cope. If emissions do not come down drastically before 2030, then by 2040, some 3.9 billion people are likely to experience major heatwaves. Almost 50 percent more food will be needed by 2040, but up to 30 percent decreases in crop yields are expected. Of course, these impacts will once again fall on those already hardest-hit: communities recovering from the last flood or fire; communities whose essential workers are still working overtime to address the pandemic; communities who lack access to clean water, air or electricity.

This year, polled our million members on how they were feeling given these circumstances, and the most common response was, “how do we keep going? Is there any hope?”  

Given the scale of the crisis, that sentiment can be empathized with. Most of us feel that we lack the individual power to affect change beyond the problems that lay directly in front of us, within our communities. But the good news is climate action, mitigation, and adaptation has many shapes, and we do not have to act alone.

In my home in Oakland, California, addressing climate change looks like community weatherization and clean energy subsidies for low-income households, or goats grazing on hillsides, eating shrubs that could make a wildfire burn faster. It looks like wetlands restoration to soften storm surges. It looks like knowing my neighbor’s phone numbers, so we can call each other when we need help — or when we can offer it. These solutions are community-led, but can only be borne from the decisions of individual people, who act on their power.

Most cities and towns have a climate action plan, or a climate mayor, and chances are that those working on local climate projects could use your help. Individually, you can join email lists, attend meetings, find your elected officials’ voting record on climate change policies, and rally accordingly. Divest your own pension fund from fossil fuels, see that your bank is climate friendly, and be sure your local and state government institutions do the same. You can donate to or volunteer with any one of the hundreds of community-based organizations fighting climate change in US cities. Look for opportunities to support groups led by communities of color and women, who are most impacted by climate change and whose solutions are often overlooked. Support groups who are on the front lines of the climate crisis in the Global South, like the Pacific Climate Warriors, Minga Indigena or Afrika Vuka is working across the globe supporting climate leadership where climate impacts are too often a part of everyday life. These communities are helping each other weather the storms and to fight the drivers of climate change. Where power is concerned, policymakers are deciding between voters on the one hand and fossil fuel lobbyists on the other. “It’s too late” is exactly what Exxon and all companies profiting from climate change want us to think. 

 IPCC reports have previously led to real victories: cities declaring climate emergencies and reducing carbon emissions accordingly; or creating tangible Net Zero commitments; or sparking historic protests that have brought about tangible action. In 2019, an IPCC report release served as the springboard for the largest mobilizations in the history of the climate movement, when over 7.6 million people from 185 countries joined the youth-led call to strike for the climate.

Agency and hope are what will ultimately shift the power from billionaires and insurrectionists back to the people. No matter how you choose to exercise your own agency, do not give up hope. This is how mass movements are built and maintained: neighbor to neighbor, block by block. By harnessing our own power, and joining it with others, we can multiply our impact and fuel this movement that will create the change needed to solve the climate crisis, together.

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