At first glance, these two concepts may seem almost identical, one word is singular, the other plural. Two words with basically the same meaning. Or so I thought. Until I read the excellent book “The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here” by scientist Hope Jahren.
Some years ago, Jahren took the opposite journey to myself: she moved from the US to Norway; I left Norway for the US in the mid-1980s. For decades, we have both been concerned about the environment and the fate of the planet’s more than seven billion humans.
In her highly readable book, Jahren gives a dramatic window seat to the link between human consumption habits and our imperiled earth, especially the looming dangers of climate change.
In a conversational narrative, she weaves scientific observation and studies with personal experiences growing up in Iowa, the American heartland of large corn fields and small, conservative towns. She makes a compelling case for the need to solve climate change through global system change. One person at-a-time.
In page after page, Jahren summarizes the evolution of our technological advances—from electric power to industrial farming, from automobiles to international air travel—the all-important inventions that have helped us but also released dangerous greenhouse gases into the planet’s fragile atmosphere.
The glorious story of more is the story of increased life expectancy, a tripling in cereal and meat production since 1969, the year Jahren was born. But it is also the story of capitalist greed and all its dark shadow sides: global fossil fuel use has almost tripled; one trillion tons of carbon dioxide have been released into the sky from the burning of these non-renewable energy sources; more than half of all amphibian, bird and butterfly species has declined in population; and the production of plastic has increased tenfold.
So, what can we do? There is a lot one human being can do to create system change. The 17-year old climate strike activist Greta Thunberg has shown us that. Hence, Jahren concludes her book by suggesting five actions we each can take:
- Examine our values
- Gather information
- Walk our talk
- Shop for change
- Advocate for change
These suggestions are all well and good. If each one of us took these steps to heart; we could make a big difference. But in reality, not enough of us will ever make those individual changes. And that is the problem with individual system change. With singular system change. It’s simply not enough to make a difference.
“We live in a time of overlapping crises and we need to connect the dots, because we don’t have time to solve each crisis sequentially. We need a movement that addresses all of them.” ~ Naomi Klein
Authors like Jahren and many environmental organizations have encouraged individuals to bring a cloth shopping bag to the supermarket for decades without significantly reducing the plastic trash in the oceans or on land.
Dramatic policy changes are needed for that. Today, plastic trash is everywhere; even as microfibers in the air and in our lungs. Thus, we simply need to ban plastic bags altogether. We need to invent and produce biodegradable bags. Shops must no longer be allowed to sell stuff wrapped in petrochemical garbage.
But to simply reduce plastics from the environment, that will require multiple changes. It will require cultural, scientific, political and economic systems change. Multilayered systems change. That is the kind of insight lacking in Jahren’s otherwise excellent book. And that is why we have opted to use the concept of systems change rather than singular system change.
Thus, we agree with author Naomi Klein: “We live in a time of overlapping crises,” she writes, “and we need to connect the dots, because we don’t have time to solve each crisis sequentially. We need a movement that addresses all of them.” Indeed, we do. That is why we started Systems Change Alliance.
What we need now is a movement advocating for integrated change, not simply a movement asking people to alter their behavior, to create superficial system change. That time has long gone. It’s time for a movement of people demanding deep systems change.
That’s the kind of movement Systems Change Alliance aspires to be.
Want to join us?
Photo by Bluehouse Skis