By John Greenler and Emily Park

It might feel like recent months have brought a deluge of dire warnings about the worsening effects of the climate crisis, both here in Wisconsin and throughout the world. The recent reports from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI; here) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; here and here) tell us that the effects of climate change — more extreme weather and temperatures, droughts, floods, fires, and more — are already challenging our ability to produce enough food, threatening buildings and infrastructure, devastating ecosystems, and submerging entire cities.

It will only get worse from here.

However, WICCI and the IPCC both emphasize one thing: We can still make the changes we need to avoid the wide-scale collapse of ecosystems and economies, but only if we act now to implement necessary solutions.

We need changes at every level. We need wide-scale justice for communities most impacted by the climate crisis — generally poorer and BIPOC communities, often in the Global South, but also here in Wisconsin. We need governments, universities, and companies to promote research and development into sustainable energy and technology. We need policies that incentivize green practices at every level of society, and discourage or prohibit the production and burning of more fossil fuels. We need to end the flow of money to fossil fuel projects. We need a wide-scale shift in our culture in favor of conscientious consumerism, respect for all people and life, and consideration for how our actions impact the world around us and the lives of future generations.

There are so many things that we can achieve right here in Wisconsin. The new Koshkonong Solar Energy Center planned for Dane County is a great step in the right direction. More projects like this one will be crucial to our future, bringing jobs to our state and reducing our carbon emissions. Green building standards, sustainable land use practices, and regenerative agriculture will also be critical for Wisconsin. We must also end the expansion of fossil fuel projects here, particularly the proposed expansion of Enbridge’s Line 5 tar sands oil pipeline, which violates Indigenous rights and poses a critical threat to the waters and ecosystems of Lake Superior.

These are all concrete solutions that will contribute to the change we need for a sustainable future, but we’re missing an intermediate step in this process. In order to bring about these solutions, we need broad engagement and action from the people who matter most: you and your community.

People in positions of power — whether they’re elected officials, government employees, business executives, or community leaders — are unlikely to change their ways without pressure from their constituents, shareholders, and communities. It might seem like an individual voice won’t be enough to force change in powerful institutions, but if we’ve seen anything from human history (e.g., Gandhi’s salt march, women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights era, and the marriage equality movement), it’s that grassroots action — the mobilization of everyday people in everyday communities — can and does make a difference.

Research has shown that 3.5% is the crucial segment of the population needed to bring about action and change, and the Yale Climate Project has found an ever-growing level of public concern about the climate crisis. What does this mean for the future of our planet? It means that there has never been a better moment for individuals to get involved and be part of a critical movement.

This is a big, complicated issue, and deciding where to start might seem daunting and intimidating. The amazing thing about grassroots action is that individual involvement at every level matters! Send a message to your elected officials, prioritize support for businesses with climate-conscious practices, and invite your friends to do the same. If you feel energized by these first steps, join a march or a rally! Move your money from financial institutions like Chase Bank, the single largest funder of fossil fuel projects. Volunteer for your local environmental organization. Participate in a protest or an act of civil disobedience. The options for engagement are endless, and any effort you can contribute will add to the cacophony of voices calling for change.