When we hear about solutions to climate change, they tend to come from top-down organizations intent on setting strict goals to reduce carbon emissions. It’s not often that we hear about collectively driven methods that can make a real difference. In this article, we will cover how climate change can be fought from the bottom-up.

Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Top-down approaches are decisions made by policymakers like CEOs, politicians, and industry leaders. They result in fast, immediate changes but can fail to make a meaningful difference without good communication and organization. Bottom-up approaches are a shift in the behaviors of ordinary people. They result in long-lasting, organic change, but without momentum and direction, they’ll fail before they accomplish their goal. For issues as complex as climate change, both top-down and bottom-up changes are necessary. 

Fighting Climate Change From the Bottom-Up

Climate change can be said to be a top-down issue. After all, just 20 companies are behind about one-third of all global carbon emissions. Unsurprisingly, they’re all fossil fuel companies. While a few simple policy changes can fix the problem, it’s everyday people like you and me that consume their products. So while large companies have massive financial and organizational resources, sheer numbers tip the scale in favor of successful bottom-up approaches. The best solutions to climate change are those that make an impact on how everyday people live their lives.

Below are several examples of actions that, if done on a large scale, can result in a movement towards meaningful change. 

Ethical consumerism

It’s often the case that our favorite brands cause some sort of environmental harm. Whether it’sa corn-based product driving deforestation or takeout packaged with single-use plastics. Even though environmentally damaging products are pervasive and hard to avoid, it’s still possible to be a sustainable shopper by making the right choices.

This idea is called ethical consumerism. While the concept goes far beyond sustainability, environmental concerns are a significant issue for conscious consumers. The idea is based onthe simple concept of supply and demand. Brands will supply more sustainable products if there is a higher demand. In other words, ethical consumerism forces entire companies to become more sustainable to remain relevant and avoid losing their customer base

Sustainable Urban Farming & Gardening

The majority of our produce is grown on conventional farms. These farms require the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which degrade the soil and pollute the environment. Conventional farms are often located far from the crop’s final destination. The product must be transported across large distances, leading to greenhouse gas emissions. Conventional farms also need large expanses of land, and so are one of the driving forces behind deforestation, which further exacerbates climate change by disrupting the carbon cycle.

The best remedy is to scale down and bring agriculture closer to home. Urban farms are a great way to turn unused space into sustainable farmland. Anybody with some space can startup their own edible garden. More creative urban farmers have made use of roofs, abandoned lots, backyards, and warehouses to grow crops in high-density areas. While the practice comes with its own set of challenges, the widespread implementation of urban food gardens will open the way for the restoration of deforested lands while reducing greenhouse gasses.

Go Vegan

Meats and animal products require more energy per pound of food compared to plant-based products. This is especially the case with beef, which requires vast amounts of land, water, and other resources, even when compared to pork or chicken. Naturally, this means meat-eatershave a higher carbon footprint when compared to those who subscribe to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Substituting plant-based proteins in place of meat can have a profound impact on greenhouse gas emissions, especially with a focus on cutting the consumption of beef.

Biking & Public Transport

In the United States, cars and vehicular traffic make up a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions. Even before they hit the road, cars are already emitting huge amounts of CO2 via the manufacturing process, and this also applies to electric vehicles. But it doesn’t stop at cars; associated infrastructure like roads and parking lots also emit greenhouse gasses. 

Ditching the car when possible can have enormous benefits for the environment, especially when done en masse. Using public transport helps lower carbon emissions, even if busses and trains still run on fossil fuels. This is because they’re more efficient, using much less energy per passenger than cars. In cities like San Francisco, which have a long-established bicycle culture, residents have a much lower carbon footprint on average. Higher ridership of bikes and public transport has a noticeable effect on the top, as governments respond with an increase in funding to widen alternative transportation services.

Protests & Demonstrations

The driving force behind our inability to stop climate change is rooted in the financial gain stemming from the use of fossil fuels. Activists and environmentalists who are passionate about getting to the root causes of climate change often stage protests and demonstrations targeting companies that profit from fossil fuels. This brings awareness to harmful business models. Particularly effective protests can even put a dent in corporate profits by disrupting the day-to-day actions of a company. These come in the form of large blockades, sit-ins, and consumer-led boycotts. Successful protests have deterred companies from making environmentally harmful business decisions.

Environmental Policy and Top-Down Methods

The most publicized approaches to climate change are top-down methods. We often hear about efforts like the UN Climate Goals or how more industries are moving towards sustainable products. The recent COP26 meeting in Glasgow is a recent example. These climate talks are led by world leaders and industry pioneers who attempt to negotiate policies around climate action while limiting adverse economic effects on important industries. 

While there is significant potential for top-down environmental policies to effectively fight climate change, these summits hardly ever reach their goal. The approach also depends on the ability of countries and industries to agree and cooperate. The Paris Climate Agreement was notorious for the lack of participation by key players, like the United States. This lack of cooperation is why most top-down methods fail. Many of the global organizations spearheading top-down climate action are also out of touch with the bottom. They tend to be top-heavy entities with lots of finances and good marketing campaigns but have a limited effect on the ground due to mismanagement and lack of cultural sensitivity. 

Key Takeaways 

Climate action has been a primarily top-down phenomenon, where industries and governments have been attempting to force large-scale changes, often with mixed results. While bottom-up climate solutions can be more effective, getting people on board has proven difficult. 

  • The sheer number of people changing their behavior can bottom-up approaches more effective against climate change.
  • There are several ways to fight climate change from the bottom-up; some are simple lifestyle changes while others require effort on part of entire communities. 
  • Eating less meat, riding a bike or the bus, and cultivating an urban farm are all effective methods, which multiply in effectiveness when more people take part. 
  • Being an ethical consumer, where one buys sustainable products while boycotting unethical ones, can send a direct message to large corporate polluters.