By Emily Park

Concerned citizens are often asking what they can do to help solve the climate crisis. As climate activists, we at 350 Madison believe that real progress will require major systemic changes brought about by strong grassroots citizen engagement. At the same time, these wider scale course corrections might be achieved faster with changes to individual habits and our culture. That’s why we chose to challenge our members to modify their daily habits for our latest fundraiser.

There are a number of ways that individuals can dramatically lower their carbon footprint in their everyday lives: efficient energy consumption at home, a climate-friendly diet, and reduced reliance on fossil fuel–powered transportation. Our Car Free for the Climate (CFC) event challenged climate activists to set an example for their friends and family by going car-free between September 15 and October 15. We’re lucky to live in a city that’s fairly bike-friendly, and many parts of the city are accessible by bus.

By taking on a challenge like CFC, we can demonstrate to our friends that changing our lifestyle to be more climate-friendly isn’t all or nothing; even small, partial changes are important. For example, some CFC participants pledged to bike or walk to all destinations within three miles, or to go car-free only a few days a week. Everyone’s capacity and ability to go car-free is different; the important thing is to find changes that will be sustainable in our lives!

One CFC participant, Kathleen, saw how going car-free changed the way she sees her community. Riding a bike on her first day, she was better able to enjoy Madison’s beautiful fall weather while also observing wildlife than she might have been from a car… all while avoiding rush-hour traffic! Kathleen detailed her experiences to motivate her network to make changes in their own lives.

Our hope is that by encouraging people to consider the climate in every aspect of their lives, our community as a whole will evolve to be climate-conscious in all areas. For example, while the Madison area has great biking infrastructure, there’s always more that can be done to support bike commuters, and there are certainly ways that our public transit system can be improved.

Wide-scale changes to our fossil fuel–reliant culture, coupled with widespread pressure from motivated activists and voters, will hasten the systemic changes to transportation, agriculture, infrastructure, and industry that our climate desperately needs. We believe that the true power of changing personal habits lies in the potential to influence system-wide changes; without these kinds of major alterations, we won’t see the results we need to survive the climate crisis.