Top-down vs. Bottom-up or: How to act against climate change?

As you are reading this post, you are probably aware that climate change is happening, that its repercussions threaten our world and that something urgently needs to be done. While a lot of people would agree on that, I doubt many would agree on the way to act and the means to save ourselves from disaster.

For the past years, I have been thinking a lot about how I can personally make a difference and I am still unsure about how exactly saving the world will be integrated in my life in the long-term. I believe there are two main approaches one can take and I call them Top-down and Bottom-up change.

How I picture it, the Top-down change group includes politicians, diplomatic conferences, the UN, big industries, NGOs and more suit-wearing, fancily dressed people speaking in a pompous and politically cryptic manner.

In contrast, the Bottom-up change group consists of smaller NGOs and organisations and mostly vegan individuals with Dreadlocks wearing Birkenstocks, Hippie pants and overall exuding an air of enlightenment and tree-hugging qualities.

I know this is quite extreme stereotyping, but I think you get the point. However, what is it that you should you and I individually do to implement actual change? And, from a Kantian perspective, what would be the effect of everyone choosing the same approach?

If everyone chose to implement change bottom-up, I believe that CO2 consumption would decrease rapidly, we would all be dancing in a circle happily singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the Marshall Islands would still have a chance to continue existing above the surface of the ocean. But, then again, people can be douchebags that ultimately always choose their own benefit over the common good and this makes the prospects of solely bottom-up change highly unlikely.

If everyone chose to implement change top-down, I don’t think anything would change: It is highly unlikely that important looking people with the newest iPhone discussing about Brazilian deforestation will be able to save the rainforest in real life.

I believe that, for actual change you need people working for change top-down and bottom-up. People who reduce their own carbon emissions by being vegetarian, not flying and buying organic local food and politicians and international organisations that allow that push from below instead of fighting it for their own carbon-fuelled benefit. We need people who push and people who allow, people who spark ideas and people who fight to implement them on a legal level to actually make them feasible.

But, to which kind of these people will you belong? Which route of change are you going to take?


Text by Johanna Stoye, Illustration by Marina Maschek


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