In 2019, everyone should be aware that climate change is a global challenge. Carbon emissions in the U.S. affect the climate across the world in China–and vice versa. No one person or group can face the challenge alone.
But organizing global action is especially challenging. Seven billion voices clamoring to be heard won’t get far without a shared, incisive message, and agreeing on a single effective message is difficult. Different cultures have unique motivations to protect the environment, and different local habitats that they connect with best. Even though billions around the world agree we need to fight climate change, strategies will need to differ from place to place and be initiated by more local leaders.
That’s the first reason why communities are how we can solve climate change. By definition, communities can’t be too big or too small. The Oxford English dictionary defines a community as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”
Just one person can’t be a community. Usually, neither can two or three. And by most practical uses, an entire country is too big to be considered one single community. So not only is a community big enough to make a difference in the fight against climate change–it’s also small enough to organize coordinated action.
Caring for the environment can be tough to do alone (though you can make a difference of course), but it becomes much easier in groups, when people see that their neighbors share their values, it reinforces their commitment to living those values to the fullest.
But don’t take it from me–a host of scientific research backs up the idea that people are more likely to care for their environment when those around them do the same. Here are a few good examples:
- Harvard Business Review found that people use less energy when they think their neighbors care about the environment. The study actually found that people’s energy use depended more on whether they thought their neighbors used less energy to preserve the environment than whether they themselves cared about the environment.
- People are less likely to litter when their surroundings are litter-free, probably because they assume that local people care for the area–hence no litter. On the other hand, when there is even a little bit of litter on the ground already, people are much more likely to litter. Why? That first assumption no longer holds.
- Solar energy is contagious! When one person installs solar panels, their neighbors become much more likely to go solar themselves. A couple theories can help explain why. For one, given that solar is still a relatively young technology, most people don’t know too much about how it works. Seeing their neighbors take advantage makes them more comfortable taking on the new technology themselves.