Your Climate Stories: Rick Chamberlin Finds Mathematical Formula for Climate Action

Written by Guest Blogger on . Posted in The Wonk Room, Your Climate Stories

This is part of a regular series on Planet Change called “Your Climate Stories,” where we share reader stories about changes that they’re seeing and actions that they’re taking in their daily lives to help reduce carbon pollution and respond to the impacts of our changing planet.

If you have a climate story, please send it, along with any of your photos and videos, to us here


Name: Rick Chamberlin

Location: Sauk City, WI USA

After hearing Bill McKibben speak at an event near my home in 2008, I began to keep a “global cooling journal” in which I recorded actions I was taking to fight climate change. But Jim Hansen’s recent book Storms of My Grandchildren, and McKibben’s Eaarth, helped me understand that our world is likely to continue to warm for hundreds of years even if all human greenhouse gas emissions ceased immediately. So now I call my log a “climate crisis” journal.

Those books, along with McKibben’s article “Multiplication Saves the Day” in Orion Magazine convinced me that political action (multiplication) is far more important than any actions I can take in my personal life (addition) to reduce my individual carbon footprint, as important as these things are. Concerted political action is in fact the only thing that can prevent climate catastrophe. The math just doesn’t work without it.

Therefore, a greater proportion of the actions recorded in my journal since 2008 have been political ones: letters and emails written to legislators and editors, meetings with business leaders, rallies and Citizens Climate Lobby meetings, and the launch of a blog to document the personal and local consequences of climate change.















Rick Chamberlin at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC.

Recently, as part of a weeks-long, nonviolent civil disobedience action last August, I was arrested in front of the White House along with hundreds of other activists. Our goal? To send President Obama a message that we wanted him to deny approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline – to live up to his words on the night he was elected, a night, he said, that he hoped future generations would look back on “as the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

Proving the power of “multiplication,” President Obama announced in November of 2011 that he was delaying a decision on the pipeline until 2013 to allow time for a more thorough environmental review.

Nevertheless, I have also reduced my household’s carbon footprint significantly in the last 3 years by driving less, avoiding gasoline made with ethanol, replacing inefficient light bulbs, buying a battery-powered lawnmower, composting kitchen and yard waste (aerobic decomposition produces far less methane than the anaerobic decomposition occurring  in landfills), buying more local and organic food, etc. And since I can’t afford a hybrid or electric vehicle, I’ve also purchased carbon offsets. I found that I could offset my remaining measurable carbon emissions for one year for less than $200 – less than the cost of one monthly payment on a new car.

Doing all these things, and recording my actions, has helped me remain engaged and hopeful despite the evidence. And remaining engaged has helped me to begin to atone for some of the damage I’ve done to the climate in my 45 years as a relatively wealthy, fossil fuel-consuming American. Finally, I can think of no better legacy to give my daughter and son than the record of the actions I took to try to ensure that they don’t inherit a world of hell and high water.

Photo courtesy of Rick Chamberlin.

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Comments (3)

  • Jon Flatley


    Inspiring article! It seems hopeless the more you read and study the global warming problem but your story provides a guide by which common folks can do something (and feel good about what they’ve done). For that, I’m appreciative. Keep up the good work!


  • Madeleine Para


    I hope you continue to inspire me and others to do likewise!


  • Vince


    Hi Rick,

    Thanks for the post. You are not alone. I came to pretty much the same conclusions, and was TSA arrestee #93 on 8/29.

    I am planning to go to the CCL conference next month. You?


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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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