COP15 – Is the personal political enough?

Another big picture post from Brazil, now a hotel room in Rio headed home in a day.

Reading about the Climate Summit in Copenhagen and thinking about the roles of personal change (Your Money or Your Life) and community change (Transition Movement). COP15, as it is called, is debating what structural agreements and financial mechanisms all nations will agree to honor. The feasible is all too little too late. The necessary perhaps too far from the feasible to turn the tide. Whatever the agreements, though, in the end it is real people in real places that will have to make them stick – or adapt. That’s wherepersonal change comes in. Here Bill Becker reports that Citizen Consumers are beginning to wake up the strategic if not moral consciousness of corporations. Some are making system wide changes which actually affect sustainability outcomes. So voting with your dollars – and declaring from the roof tops and blogs that you are doing so – can make a difference.

Frugality itself, a big lesson of the 9-step program in YMOYL, helps at every level to use resources well and wisely. If everything bought costs personal life energy, and you want to maximize that for the best life possible, then you look for reused items, elegant and low-tech construction options, keeping some things in service longer than old habits would suggest (cars to carpets). Big agreements in Copenhagen might make these choices a bit more economic, but you still have to make them! And so does everyone else.

But what about personal actions themselves. How important are they?

First, many of the worst aspects of climate change happen to people.

Health is a big one. Bad air and water and contaminated food breed illness. New pathogens and endocrine disruptor and more cause health problems.

Justice is another – those at the bottom are more affected and less able to protect themselves. These will be climate refugees and richer nations and people will not be able to keep them from pressing across boarders for food, water and life. Sickness care is often metered to the rich before the poor. It is not only morality that says change is needed, but common sense.

Both health and justice can be addressed locally as well as globally. Staying informed, finding home remedies that work whether you can get to a clinic, growing your own healthy food, sharing knowledge with others – this is also public health. Supporting local food banks (we have one of the best on Whidbey, brag brag) is crucial. We can make it better for us and need to activate our will even in the face of failed global agreements.

Consumer slowdown – spending less for equal or greater quality of life – will at least reduce the pressure of overconsumption – and might shift production towards what consumers will buy: energy efficiency, low- and high- tech solar installations, recycled clothing, purification systems, water cachement systems, farm and garden implements, bicycles, electric mopeds and cars, online trading systems that work, films full of hope and information. Lots of good things can be produced in response to wise consumer’s demands.

Community relocalization. This is where I’m investing my life energy (time and money) since all sustainability adaptation is actually local. It happens somewhere.

Relocalization isn’t isolationist. It’s “subsidiarity” at its best. This means making decisions and adaptations at the most local level possible. Not sending important decisions that can be made locally up the political hierarchy, regarding the local as powerless. Influencing the halls of power, but not waiting for them. This is “FI-thinking” (Financial independence, intelligence and integrity) at a collective level

Here are some aspects:

1. Find out all laws and policies that can bring money and power to local projects. Robert Gilman, my city councilman in little Langley WA found state money to finance an “energy czar” for our city. County activists are smart about the laws and use them to protect land from developers and Puget Sound from pollution. Just because a law is on the books doesn’t mean it’s on local official’s radar. Find out. Make change happen. Here in Brazil there are ever better laws, but in a country as huge and basically wild as this one, much illegal destruction still goes on.

2. Map local agricultural, water and economic assets. Local production of food and goods doesn’t mean local food and economic systems. On Whidbey we’re doing this. First a “farmer to chef” network was developed, revealing several gaps in the delivery system that prevented a good idea from becoming a real one. Money was raised. A local ag coordinator was hired. Money ran out and she was fired, but the network and the knowledge remains. Now Transition Whidbey is sponsoring an ag mapping process so we know who is growing what and which lands have what ag potential. This will help the farmers coordinate crops in response to local demand, and help CSA’s and sharecroppers (people who grow for Farmer’s Markets on others’ land in exchange for a cut of the crop) know where else they might grow. With budget cuts there may not be much county or state support for this effort, but it has to happen and we are doing it.

3. Research. God bless we have the web. You can find solutions from around the world for water harvesting and good farming practices and energy generation and more. is a treasure trove of solutions – but so are many other sites. YouTube has videos for every green home handyman project you can imagine. Form clubs like they do for investing, but for researching good local energy and food systems and how to manifest them.

In other words, it may seem hopeless in Copenhagen that we’ll get what we need, but hope is alive and well in hearts and hands and communities and we can do it.


One thought on “COP15 – Is the personal political enough?

  1. Great post, Vicki. There is a strong connection between personal actions (and frugality) and the political. Living simply frees up time to engage in localisation, to grow gardens for food security, and to take political action (registering votes, working for candidates…), and do the research to know which companies to support – when you need to purchase something that you can’t borrow, or buy used or do without. It is ALL important, and all part of the bigger system that will or will not tip in a way that’s good for us – and for the earth systems that sustain us. Keep up the great work!

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