This article, by Amanda bertana of the University of Maine, was originally published on the Bangor Daily News opinion page on June 4, 2019.
It is safe to assume that the majority of us have encountered the catch-phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” most likely on the bumper sticker of a Subaru driving down Interstate 95. The slogan has been echoed around the world since it was adopted by the American environmental movement in the 1970s.
Never has a catch-phrase remained so pertinent across time and space. As international and national leaders discuss climate change, communities around the world are mobilizing around environmental issues.
World leaders are continuing to meet once a year to discuss climate change negotiations in the international arena. In Augusta, Gov. Janet Mills is addressing climate change policy through legislation that aims to reduce Maine’s greenhouse gases, promote jobs by transitioning to a lower carbon economy, and support climate resiliency in Maine’s communities. As all of this is happening at the national and international levels, local communities are organizing around the phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally.”
Towns and cities across the state are embodying the local through climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts that spread awareness, enhance resiliency and generate community belonging. Mount Desert Island, for instance, has created the Climate to Thrive initiative that seeks to achieve sustainable energy independence by 2030. In 2018, Belfast joined more than 3,500 organizations under the We Are Still In declaration, a movement that emerged in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s “withdrawal” from the Paris climate agreement, as a promise to the rest of the world to stay committed to reducing greenhouse gases.
Bangor recently wrapped up Energy Smart Bangor, a rebate program that provided financial assistance to low- and middle-income households to invest in energy efficiencies. On July 20, Blue Hill will hold its first annual Climate Convergence Conference, bringing together policy makers, young people, scientists and concerned citizens. The goal of the conference is to explore the most fruitful way to communicate the seriousness of climate change without driving people into paralyzing despair.
Mount Desert, Belfast, Bangor and Blue Hill are making a global issue — climate change — local. Some may dismiss these examples of climate action as idealist, arguing that small actions are not big enough to combat global climate change. But the interesting phenomenon about climate change is that although global in nature, it is the byproduct of actions that occur at smaller scales — energy consumption, dietary habits and even fashion choices — all contribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Simply put, climate change is local in its causes but global in its consequences. This means that the solution to climate change is not just global, it is also local.
The large scale apocalyptic messages associated with climate change can be disheartening. At times it can quite literally feel like, “the sky is falling.” Overwhelmed by the global scope of climate change, people often respond with inaction, not out of apathy but out of feelings of powerlessness.
Grassroots climate efforts provide much needed tangible solutions to an issue that seems so out of reach for most of us as individuals. By localizing climate change, we create a vital strategic plan for our shared future and a vision for alternative ways of living that take into consideration the health of our environment and our communities. As individuals, we do have a critical role to play in curbing climate change whether — if you can — we volunteer with one of Maine’s environmental organizations, organize a beach cleanup, start a dialogue with other concerned citizens, arrange a community clothing swap, buy from your local farmers market or carpool with a neighbor. As anthropologist Margaret Mead so eloquently stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Amanda Bertana is an environmental sociologist and postdoctoral fellow for the Scholars Strategy Network, Maine Chapter at the University of Maine. This column reflects her views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.