The proverb, “good things come to those that wait,” resides on the idea that patience is a virtue and that it is reasonable to exercise patience. When it comes to the necessity for climate action (#ClimateAction) however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Good things will not come to those who wait (any longer) to take intentional and swift action to protect themselves from exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19). The same logic holds true for #ClimateAction. Without a united, global, and sustained effort to significantly reduce and mitigate our contributions to climate change, we will continue to succumb to unpredictable and crippling impacts on human health and the environment.

In fact, the steady, persistent, and proactive action from everyone on earth is needed for society to fully address the scale and severity of climate-related challenges and opportunities before us. For example, #ClimateAction will require us to evaluate and implement options for resiliency, adaptation, rapid decarbonization, among other strategies. Even if we all do our part there is no guarantee that we will be successful in curtailing the predicted dramatic shifts in climate variability and the associated impacts on human health and the environment.

Restraint, persistence and discipline

At face value, the “good things” proverb does not measure up to the ideals of #ClimateAction as the theme for Earth Day 2020. But if we think it about it differently, perhaps the proverb is not only fitting, it can be a credo for #ClimateAction on April 22, 2020 and each day forward. For example, the idea that good things come to those who wait envelops the ideals of restraint, persistence, and discipline. These traits can be viewed as strategies that are essential for strong leadership and for the aspirations and goals of #ClimateAction to be realized. For example:

  • Restraint is about what we choose not to do as a fundamental strategy for #ClimateAction. That is, by showing restraint in our consumptive lifestyle we can reduce or eliminate CO2 and other emissions that negatively impact the earth’s warming. Further, on a personal level, in showing restraint in consumption and lifestyle habits that we know are bad choices for our health, wealth, and vitality, we can make dramatic improvements in our daily life. For example, by not overconsuming sugar or overindulging in fatty foods we can dramatically improve heart health and cardiovascular conditioning. Showing restraint can also include other practical things like not buying bottled water (using reusable bottles instead), which also leads to less waste and lower emissions.
  • Persistence is about acting on one thing every day, not just on Earth Day, as a behavioral change that improves your life, the life of those around you, and toward a #ClimateAction impact. This can be as simple as consistently using that reusable water bottle, every day, 365 days over the next year. Or it could be a commitment to purchase renewable energy or minimalize your wardrobe. Whatever the objective may be the key to success is taking deliberate steps and actions each day.
  • Discipline is the underlying code that influences behavior. In fact, discipline is a prerequisite for successful and sustained behavior modification. Without discipline, no negative behavior can be transformed. Discipline is also the common denominator between achieving goals toward a specific impact and within a desired time. For example, saving a specific amount for retirement or attaining a target body weight by getting enough exercise and eating healthy foods both require discipline. No significant change and intentional impact can occur without focused discipline. People who are visibly fit demonstrate that they have the discipline of exercising their bodies and feeding their bellies with the right nutrients on a consistent and regular basis. People who have more than enough saved for retirement show us that they made saving a priority in their life and put a regular amount of money aside each paycheck so that they would reach their financial goal. Discipline does not have to be hard. Discipline is reinforced by restraint and persistence, and it also reinforces these strategies as well. Discipline for #ClimateAction can come in many forms including advocacy, education, outreach, communications, and the daily pursuit of decarbonization activities (ridesharing, consuming less energy). 

For far too long many of us have talked about sustainable choices as absolutes or as trade-offs. This has confused and crippled people from making wise choices for their health, pocketbook, well-being, and that more macro measure of impact on Mother Earth. There is both a creative art and complex science to addressing #ClimateAction at scale, but there is no need for anyone to feel so overwhelmed that they cannot make clear choices that have a net positive return for their life and for improving the environment.

Taking immediate action

Our inability to project the outcome of massive climate action should not deter any of us from taking immediate action of some kind. In fact, we know that ecosystems, economies, infrastructure, and all kinds of integrated systems operate on the principles of micro-and-macro influences. Small micro influences can dramatically impact larger macro systems. Look no further than how COVID-19 proliferated from a localized impact in China to a global pandemic impacting all corners and people of the earth.

Armed with the knowledge that even small, micro-shifts in behavior can have significant impacts on the state of health of larger systems, we should all feel empowered and compelled to commit to make even one behavior modification on Earth Day. The behavior could be as simple as choosing to turn a light off at your home, or a more involved decision such as making the commitment to ride a bicycle to work in place of driving or riding in a car. This latter choice would have the multifaceted impact of improving your health while reducing your personal contribution to air emissions and decrease your financial burden of upkeeping a car and paying for fuel or parking.

Earth Day is a time of reflection and celebration for life. #ClimateAction can be as easy as powering down (electronics, energy consumptive devices and behaviors) and powering up (on healthy foods and heart-friendly activities). If we want to get really dedicated, we can choose to consume nothing at all on Earth Day that is not essential to our basic survival for the day. Through simple behavioral lifestyle changes we can improve our health and wellbeing while we also influence goals for #ClimateAction.

Whatever the choice there does not need to be a delay in instant gratification. We may not be able to see how turning a light off directly reduces CO2 emissions, or immediately results in a reduction of the earth’s temperature, but we can relish in the fact that each action we consciously take is rooted in a purpose to better ourselves and our communities.

Leadership is not always visible, and it is often understated and reserved. What we need now are leaders who act not out of ego for accolade or attention, but because it is integral to who they are and represents the moral and just thing to do. I’m convinced that the world is full of positive, hopeful, purposeful leaders that look at #ClimateAction not as a day on a calendar, but as a way of life that defines the very core of their being.

Great things will come to those taking swift #ClimateAction. The past five decades of celebrating Earth Day has proven that with focused and deliberate reinforcement of environmental unity, we can make consistent progress and tangible impact on our policies, products and behaviors that result in a more sustainable world. #ClimateAction is as much about our collective character, integrity and dignity as a species as it is about achieving a specific target for CO2 reduction. By taking stock and responsibility for our individual actions and behaviors we can continue to bring collective action to protect and enhance the earth’s resources, and ultimately ourselves.

Restraint, persistence and discipline. Each of these are pragmatic strategies for #ClimateAction that can [and will] culminate into immediate results. They will in many cases also take time to design and implement. Nothing achieved of great consequence ever happens without hard work and dedicated time to task. In showing restraint, exercising persistence, and demonstrating discipline through our actions we can have a net positive impact on the future and fate of humanity. 

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Mark Coleman is an award-winning author and a recognized voice, business advisor, entrepreneur and consultant on sustainable enterprise and the convergence of energy, technology, environmental stewardship and innovation. Mark is in his element when helping individuals and organizations advance sustainability through operational effectiveness, change management, and business strategy and development. His third book, “The Dignity Doctrine: Rational Relations for an Irrational World,” will be released June 9, 2020.

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