Climate Action: It’s Political

A reflection on climate policy from Alissa Sallans

Growing up I have always had a deep appreciation for the need for climate action, but until recently the form of action I took was at an individual level. The argument that “small changes make a big difference” and that “voting with your dollars counts” really resonated with me because of the tangibility of these concepts as well as the immediate validation I felt engaging in simple acts such as reducing my plastic consumption and taking public transport. My perception on climate action, however, has changed in the past few years. This is not to discredit the individual actions, as it is true that we all have a part to play in reducing our individual carbon footprints, but I have begun to realize that focusing solely on the individual misses the mark on climate action and that establishing policies that drive action on climate change are essential. Three points come to mind:

  1. Climate action must involve international action. Greenhouse gas emissions are a cross-border issue that cannot be solved by one person or even one country. To enact real change, countries, and by extension citizens, need to press for communication and collaboration towards policies that lead to systematic, worldwide, and enforceable change.
  2. Climate action must be intersectional. By focusing simply on individual actions, key voices in the climate arena do not get heard. Indigenous and BIPOC communities are often underrepresented in climate discussions and actions at the local, federal, and international level. Rather than focusing inwards, we must turn our efforts outwards to establish policies and approaches that support and listen to those with deep community roots and traditional knowledge as a means to identify climate actions. If we do not involve all segments of our population in the formation of climate policies, climate action ends up being a neocolonial tool that will leave marginalized peoples behind.
  3. Climate action must be accessible and involve everyone. Affordability, location, socioeconomic status, and cultural contexts are all factors that come into play when considering the accessibility of climate actions. The kind of climate action that advocates for the world to go vegan, for instance, shows no regard for the large portion of the world who do not have easy or affordable access to fresh and safe produce or whose culture is grounded in subsistence hunting. Policies that are built from community engagement will be those that will create the most wholistic change.

So, while this is not an argument against individual actions, I now realize the importance of climate policy. Advocating for climate action at a policy level has the potential to mobilize community action and compel decision makers to listen. Right now, international policy is attempting to set the course for a net zero 2050 and, if done right, it could ensure that everyone has a seat at the decision-making table. I think that it is important, now more than ever, to engage youth in climate policy to make sure that these future decision makers have the tools to effectively engage with their communities and with policy makers. It is also up to us to vocalize our critiques of the policy failures caused by non-binding political agreements of the past, and to hold our leaders more accountable as we move forwards in climate action and negotiations.

Having the chance to hear different perspectives and lived experiences during the Climate Action Cohort webinar series has me critically reflecting on my own notions of what climate policy is and should be, and I look forward to continuing to learn and expand my understanding of how climate action can (and must) be intersectional. It is clear that policy drives political action therefore we need ambitious policies on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and in doing so we need to involve everyone.

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