As reports on the significance of the climate crisis increase, it’s not uncommon for individuals to believe there is nothing they can do to change the future. This “there is nothing I can do” attitude is something we need to reframe in the minds of ourselves, our friends, our colleagues, and our organizational leaders. If everyone had this attitude, we could not make progress toward addressing climate change and bettering our planet. It is time that we all begin influencing change in an interdependent world. 

Change in an interdependent system works differently

David Peat’s book Gentle Action: Bringing Creative Change to a Turbulent World (2008) helps us see how change happens in an interdependent world. He has many frameworks about how our individual actions can shift a larger system over time, and even create a tipping point in system change. For example:

“Our actions may seem like they are having no effect. But once critical momentum is achieved, deep-seated changes take root and begin to spread. Understanding this, we’ll be less likely to give up when, in fact, success may simply be a matter of sustained effort over time.”

David Peat sees interdependence in our world. As a result, he believes that when individuals act locally on climate change the individual actions create ripple effects over time that can change the larger system. From his point of view, we don’t need to wait until political leaders agree, or big corporations change their business model to create change in our world. We can start with our own actions and choices!

The ripple effect in an interdependent system 

If you have ever seen the ripples that occur when throwing rocks into a calm pond, you can begin to see how events and actions have effects (ripples). If you see a fly caught in a spider web actively trying to become free, you will see that it creates movement (ripples) across the web. These two images of different ripples help us to understand how interdependence can change the dynamics of impact from anywhere in the system. It only takes one action to create change, or ripples, across the whole system.

An assumption about change that shifts when we see interdependence is realizing that our individual actions and choices are part of the problem we are trying to solve. Traditionally, we focus our change efforts on “the other folks who don’t get it”. However, gentle action realizes that instead of trying to change others, we also need to look inward at ourselves. As individuals, we can control our own choices on consumption, lifestyle, banking, investments, energy use, transportation, etc. Are we aligning our choices and behaviors with the future we want to create?  These decisions are ours to make! Having the ability to make these decisions is power, and as more and more individuals shift their actions, the ripple effect creates an impact on the larger system.

Hope and action can override feeling depressed about climate change

If you have felt depressed about climate news, there is an antidote that can shift this feeling. Depression happens when anger is turned inward. When we transform anger into actions, we shift our feelings from powerlessness to an active alignment with the future we want to create. This is called active hope. Active hope is when you can imagine a better future and change your actions to align with the future you want to see, whether you believe you have power or not. As your actions change, it ripples through an interdependent system and attracts others to have active hope. And, when enough of us shift the way we consume, recycle, eat, etc. — we change the world.