These days, there is a seemingly never-ending stream of studies, stats, and articles highlighting our current environmental crisis. And while the information is alarming, it can often feel so overwhelming and massive that we as individuals want to throw up our hands, say the problem is too big for us to take on, and sit back waiting for our government and corporations to take care of it.
The belief that individual action is no match for our environmental problems is echoed in numerous recent articles, which conclude that our personal efforts, such as cutting down on meat consumption or switching to solar energy for our home, are no match for our global crisis and that the only way to create change is on the macro level (i.e. government policies, etc.).
We at Solar Ascent, however, believe passionately in the power of grassroots action and the massive shifts that can happen when individuals take responsibility for their environmental options. While our day-to-day choices can definitely contribute to the large scale reduction of our carbon footprint, we believe the real benefit of grassroots change is that is can change social norms by turning niche activities mainstream.
This point was perfectly summed up in a recent article in Slate.
“We don’t recommend taking personal actions like limiting plane rides, eating less meat, or investing in solar energy because all of these small tweaks will build up to enough carbon savings (though it could help). We do so because people taking action in their personal lives is actually one of the best ways to get to a society that implements the policy-level change that is truly needed. Research on social behavior suggests lifestyle change can build momentum for systemic change. Humans are social animals, and we use social cues to recognize emergencies. People don’t spring into action just because they see smoke; they spring into action because they see others rushing in with water. The same principle applies to personal actions on climate change.”
Here in Nova Scotia, we are very fortunate to have rebates, incentive programs, and other support from our government, which makes solar energy an affordable (and financially beneficial) option. However, simply having these programs available isn’t what is going to make NS the leader in solar energy that we know it can be. What will get us there is individuals choosing to take advantage of these options and making the switch for themselves.
One person switches to solar. They tell their neighbours, they inspire change in others, and as people continue to make the individual choice to switch, it moves from niche to mainstream. And as more and more people adopt renewable practices (like solar energy), the government takes notice and continues to offer support.
Environmental Research Letters lists switching to green energy as a high impact environmental action on its own (not taking into account the cumulative impact that one person switching can make).
As Slate points out, we are social creatures and it’s in our nature to blend in with what those around us are doing. In fact, a 2012 study showed that the odds of someone making the switch to solar go up for each person in their neighbourhood that has solar panels.
While our environmental problems can seem more than a little daunting and our individual actions may feel hopelessly small, true change really does begin at the individual level. The real power of making these positive choices lies not in the small in-the-moment benefit but rather in slowly shifting social norms and behaviours.
Helping Nova Scotians make the switch to solar energy and supporting and inspiring grassroots change is our true passion. To continue this conversation offline, reach out to us at any time.
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