We’ve been having the same conversation about climate change for 30 years, and it’s not working.
Another conversation is happening.
The standard conversation: Solar panels, electric cars, smart grids.
We say: Those are great technologies, but they don’t address the economic, political, or cultural forces driving ever-growing consumption and emissions. In the United States, we are not considering many easy solutions because they require small lifestyle changes.
The standard conversation: Your consumption causes climate change.
We say: Individuals won’t reduce consumption unless U.S. culture can redefine what success means. We need to create a culture where people feel that they have enough without consuming twice as much per capita as Germany or Japan.
The standard conversation: Blame the oil companies.
We ask: What would happen if oil extraction were banned today? We’re not ready to reduce oil extraction—our oil consumption is still growing! A society without oil will need a lot of adjustments. In the U.S., we consume twice as much and we aren’t taking even the small actions that we need to divorce U.S. society from fossil fuels.
Where do we go from here?
Climate change is rooted in U.S. culture, and it needs cultural solutions.
The U.S. treats climate change like a small technical problem: an error in the formula of the modern world to be solved with a few adjustments. Solutions like wind turbines and electric cars would help, but they fall short of full solutions. Really addressing climate change means redefining the U.S. way of life, not just changing its power source.
What are the cultural barriers that prevent us from taking real action?
Electric clothes dryers produce 1% of U.S. carbon emissions. Instead of trying to power all the clothes dryers with solar panels, we could use clotheslines. Like many easy climate change solutions, that shift requires a shift in values: U.S. society needs to learn patience to return to using clotheslines. Some communities have even banned clotheslines as “ugly” signs of poverty.
What would a society that supported sustainable living value?
Many cultures were sustainable before their encounters with colonialism. Most people in the world still have a lot to teach us about sustainable living. How can we learn from others rather than push forward with unrealistic techno-utopian dreams?
How can you learn more?
Groundwork offers free workshops on climate science, climate solutions, culture, and the cultural shifts needed to address the crisis.
We publish a free series of tiny books to provoke big conversations on climate change. Read them online or order paper editions.
We offer free curriculum for classroom teachers and experiential educators. Bring a broader perspective to your students.
Read the introduction to our climate conversation (10 minutes):