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Solutions to the climate crisis will come from the multitudes

Climate change is not just a systemic problem, it’s also a leadership crisis.



If we take away one thing from this week’s climate report, let it be this: The solutions to the climate crisis already exist and are sufficient to bring humanity back into balance with Earth’s living systems.

The fact that these lifesaving practices and technologies — from solar panels to reduced food waste, from walkable cities to indigenous land tenure and dozens more — are not yet leading to massive-scale displacement of our carbon-intensive status quo is a clear indication that today’s leaders and leadership structures are not up to the task, and a call for a broader distribution of power and agency across society.

Climate change is commonly discussed as a systemic problem, not an individual-level problem. But in our current system are very real, very powerful individuals with their hands on the controls, essentially turning the dials up or down on the levels of planet-warming greenhouse gases that are churning into our atmosphere every second. Utility commissioners empowered to approve yet another coal or gas plant or shut it down. American politicians emboldened to enact climate legislation or let it die. Corporate directors who with one vote can continue to pump funds into the fossil fuel industry or cut off its lifeline.

Climate change is not just a systemic problem, it’s also a leadership crisis.

But the climate solutions we have at our fingertips today come from and belong to the multitudes. They were born from farmers, builders, Indigenous knowledge holders, engineers, educators, foresters, healthcare workers and many more. And the multitudes will ultimately bring these solutions to scale. Here’s how.

Climate change is not just a systemic problem, it’s also a leadership crisis.

First, we need more people applying their skills to bring about urgently needed shifts in the ways we produce our food, heat and cool our homes, move from place to place and construct and power our buildings. Programs such as the Civilian Climate Corps, part of the $550 billion of investments in the federal reconciliation package, would encourage climate-friendly career pathways — but we don’t have time to wait for our leaders to enact them.

At the same time, we push for policy change we must also embed sustainability education into college and vocational school curricula and support the transition of oil and gas professionals into future-facing careers in renewables and energy innovation. Other job functions can also be deployed to help climate solutions scale quickly and equitably: investors deploying their capital to fund climate solutions, policymakers with a climate lens on every piece of legislation, human resources professionals who embed a culture of climate action in all parts of the company and more.

Diffuse decisions

Second, we need more diffuse decision-making inside large and influential institutions, especially corporations. Unlike corporate directors, employees are not tethered to the need to show quarterly returns to their shareholders. As employee climate activism moves "from the shadows into the mainstream" — workers throughout businesses are building power to demand climate action and hold companies accountable. Last week’s historic vote by Amazon workers to form the first collective bargaining unit will put more power in the hands of workers, and will strengthen their ability to negotiate for safer and fairer workplaces. It’s not hard to imagine how this worker power might soon be used to demand climate action and accountability from their employers.

And third, building the world we need will require a pivot of entire business models and investments toward scaling climate solutions full stop. Dramatically increasing U.S. production of heat pumps, for example, will create more jobs and shift production away from products that perpetuate overconsumption to products that are put to work to solve the problem. These pivots will be accelerated by policies such as the newly invoked Defense Production Act — but again, we don’t have to wait for the federal government. Small businesses can pivot more quickly, startups can integrate climate solutions from the ground up and employees within large corporations can help their company reimagine its business model toward climate solutions.

Bringing climate solutions into the world at scale will require that each of us chooses, day after day, to work toward a future that is healthier, more vibrant, more resilient, more prepared and more equitable than the one we once knew. This moment cannot just be about pleading and hoping that our leaders see the urgency and drive us forward. It must also be about bringing to bear our own power and unique skill sets for this awe-inspiring opportunity to shape a better future together.

Because ultimately, our future will be decided by the multitudes.

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