Gaian Action

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"A major reason that climate communications have been so milquetoast is that they have lacked a large-scale social movement and political strategy that individuals can be a meaningful part of. Instead, individuals have been addressed as 'consumers' who should strive to minimize their individual carbon footprint or environmental impact. This approach . . . casts individuals as perpetrators who should attempt to reduce the amount of harm they are causing . . .
"Our moral obligation to fight climate change is to build a collective solution, not to purify ourselves as individual consumers. . . .
"We must create an atmosphere in which active engagement in the climate crisis is considered a fundamental part of living a moral life. To accomplish this, we have to give people opportunities to be a meaningful part of the solution; we have to give them the opportunity to be rescuers."
- Margaret Klein, "What Climate Change Asks of Us: Moral Obligation, Mobilization and Crisis Communication," Common Dreams December 19, 2014


This quote is important, not just for what it says about the global climate crisis in particular, but for the general idea it promotes: to focus their energy most effectively on actions that affect the whole world, people must think and act as part of a greater whole, rather than focusing on "doing the right thing," or worse, "the less wrong thing," in their own individual lives. This is the essence of Gaian Action.

None of which is to deny the importance of getting large numbers of people to reduce their water and electricity use, buy food that was produced in eco-friendly ways, and switch to low-pollution transportation methods. It's just that to truly build those behaviors into our society requires that we feel connected as a society when making these changes, secure in the knowledge that most people around us are taking similar actions, rather than wondering, as many environmentalists currently do, whether everyone around us thinks we're stuck-up holier-than-thou jerks. (Gaian Action is in some respects even more "self-righteous" than environmental action more generally, since Gaian Thinking leads to an ecocentric focus on preserving nonhuman life and the overall Gaian system for its own sake, rather than for its utility to humans.)

Bearing all that in mind, it's useful to consider four quadrants of Gaian Action, divided based on individual-level versus societal-level action and, equally important, actions that increase the thriving of life on Earth versus those that merely reduce the harm that humans are currently causing.

Examples of Gaian Action

Societal-level actions to increase thriving

Societal-level actions to reduce harm

  • Joining a carpool (probably the smallest-scale action that counts as societal)
  • Voting for political leaders who support policies to reduce greenhouse emissions, water pollution, urban sprawl, etc
  • Working with or donating money to groups that use lawsuits and political deals to halt destructive projects, or buy land and protect it permanently using land trusts
  • Working with companies that build large-scale renewable energy projects
  • Participating in protest marches, especially when coordinated to occur on the same day in many locations, as 350.org has done several times
  • Participating in large-scale civil disobedience

Individual-level actions to increase thriving

  • Planting gardens that attract and support pollinators and migratory birds
  • Planting trees
  • Volunteering with local trail maintenance projects to make it easier for people to explore nature without harming it
  • Playing Paul Krafel's Game to help stormwater sink into the soil rather than becoming runoff and causing erosion
  • Buying food grown using techniques such as biochar and holistic management that increase the health and carbon content of the soil

Individual-level actions to reduce harm

  • Recycling (perhaps the best example of an individual-level practice with broad societal support)
  • Using more energy-efficient lights and appliances and better insulation
  • Buying organic food
  • Traveling in a hybrid or electric car, on a bus or train, by bicycle, or on foot
  • Buying solar panels to reduce reliance on fossil-fuel power