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Wild Side: Resolved to focus on what can be done, not on what we won’t do

I bet you have some of the very same New Year’s resolutions I have. I’m going to put down the digital screens and read more actual books. I’m going to be more present with my family and find a better work-life balance. Like every year, I am going to get in better shape and spend more time outside in the places I work to protect and restore.

But as the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, I found myself looking up at the stars. Away from the lights on the Rogue Valley, I could see the vast Milky Way on a crisp night in the Applegate Valley. As I stared into the brilliant night sky I thought about what was most important to me in life. I was suddenly overcome with the inescapable feeling that my resolutions are not enough.

What am I doing for the life on this planet at risk from the biggest existential crisis of our time: climate change?

I thought about the usual stuff. I can save up for a hybrid car. Better yet I can ride my bike instead of drive a car. I can support local businesses instead of big box stores. I can reduce, reuse and recycle. You know the stuff.

But then I remember the latest scientific report on what we are doing to our atmosphere says we have about 12 years to make a real difference or we are entering severe consequences for our planet and humanity. It is a gloom and doom situation if there ever was one. I am left unmotivated.

How do we change this dispirited feeling? We must change the way we engage on environmental issues to avoid from feeling demoralized. As one example, Saffron O’Neill and Sophie Nicholson-Cole performed a study on climate change called “Fear Won’t Do It.” They found that while the fear of climate change impacts initially attract people, there is a need to “link to individuals’ everyday emotions and concerns” to actually engage people on the issue. Fear eventually drives people away.

As I thought about what resolution would really make a difference in my life and for the betterment of our world, I realized I need to flip the script. There are so many positive actions being taken to protect our planet and to tackle climate change, I need to celebrate each and every one of them more.

The good news is that we have so many examples of people making the changes we so desperately need. We just need a lot more of it. Here in the Rogue Valley, there are businesses developing a clean energy economy. Solar panels are going up on homes and municipal buildings. People are reducing their carbon footprint by building energy efficient homes, making electric cars, and growing their own food.

Just as important, we are preparing for the coming changes. There are conservationists and foresters preparing our landscapes by helping make them more resilient to increased drought and fire risk wrought by climate change. We are adapting our communities by saving water, making defensible space around our homes, and living more in balance with nature.

So, along with getting in better shape and spending more time with my family, I hereby resolve to celebrate each and every action I can take to avert climate disaster, and to also celebrate each and every action, no matter the size, that is making the change we need to save our planet.

Now if each and every one of us could do the same, we’d be making a really good start. As the Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.

The Milky Way above the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. Photo by Shane Stiles