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The world has a historic agreement. How are we going to build our future?

To really address climate change, we need more than behavior change. To address climate change, we need system change.

We would all remember being in Paris on Dec. 12, 2015, when it happened.
REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The sound, quite literally, of the world cheering filled the hall as I watched firsthand the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement. I cheered along, cheeks wet with tears. After years of struggle and work, nearly 200 countries agreed: The world must pivot – it must transition out of the era of fossil fuels and into an era of clean energy.

Kate Knuth

A few hours earlier, thousands of activists had filled streets in Paris. They gathered, with red banners and red flowers, to make the point that the Paris Agreement was not enough. The people must make the progress needed to secure a just climate future.

Back in the conference hall, countries started speaking to the agreement, and some common themes emerged. First, this agreement was historic. We would all remember being in Paris on Dec. 12, 2015, when it happened. Second, the hard work had just begun. The people of the world must come together to realize the promise of the agreement and to make the changes needed to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Similarities in messages

I was struck by the similarities in the messages the activists and the conference delegates delivered. Both called for people to stand up for climate justice, to act, to hold leaders accountable – in short, for everyone to get to work on climate change solutions.

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Now back home in Minnesota, this is the idea I carry with me. I am asking myself, how am I going to best contribute to making progress on climate change? I ask you to ask yourself the same question. The world needs us to ask this question … and then to act.

The first answers that come to mind are individual changes. Use less fossil fuel energy – invest in better insulation, screw in better light bulbs, get a more efficient furnace, drive less. Invest in renewable energy – community solar is an exciting new option. Eat lower on the food chain – food production, especially red meat, is a big contributor to climate change.

These actions are great. We need to do them. But they are not enough. To really address climate change, we need more than behavior change. To address climate change, we need system change.

It’s harder, but it gets easier

System change is harder. System change work is not done alone. It asks us to step outside of ourselves and engage in public and political processes. It asks us listen deeply to people with different views and experiences and to respond genuinely and respectfully with our own perspectives. It asks us, again and again, to be our best selves in partnership and community with others. System change work is uncomfortable, but with practice it gets easier. And when it works, system change feels like magic. We saw it in Paris, and we can make it happen here.

What can you and I do to help our country fulfill its commitment to transition out of the fossil fuel era and into the clean energy era? How can we change our systems to align with the realities of climate change? Bring climate action into your public life – in your school, neighborhood, community groups, and workplace. Make climate change a voting issue – with your own vote and through engaging others one-on-one and in campaigns. Make climate change a financial issue – think about how you’re spending your money, examine your investments for risks associated with climate change, and, if you have a pension, ask the people who control it how they’re addressing the financial risks of climate change. Make climate change a justice issue – asking who benefits from keeping old systems and how we can all benefit from transitioning to new ones. Connect to others working on climate solutions – Minnesota has many organizations doing this work, and you can increase your effectiveness by working with them.

The important thing: Get started

There is no one way to contribute to building the new systems we need to create a better climate future. The important thing is to get started and to get better along the way.

The world has never before done what it just did in Paris. And it has never before done what we are being called to do in the coming years and decades. This reality simultaneously terrifies and excites me. I hope that we, all of us, are up to the task.

The world made history with the Paris Agreement. How are you going to build on this historic agreement to create the world’s future? The possibilities are limitless as we set out together on this path to a new era.

Kate Knuth was part of the University of Minnesota observer delegation to the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. The views here are her own and do not represent the University of Minnesota.

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