Why We Need Some Silver Buckshot

It’s not an easy time to be an environmentalist.

Everywhere we look, we’re bombarded by stories about how the planet is falling apart because of us.

Climate change is getting worse. A third of all species on Earth may face extinction in the next 35 years. Almost the entire Great Barrier Reef is now bleached. People and animals alike are still suffering from the worst oil spill in US history, six years after the fact.

So why am I here?

Five years ago, I graduated from Pomona College (a small liberal arts school in Claremont, California) with a degree in – what else? – environmental analysis. My job search took me into the clean energy field, where I learned about electricity markets and the pros and cons of cap-and-trade.

That first job opened my eyes to the world of environmental policy, how a well-designed regulation could have such a big impact on those issues I learned about back in school – renewable energy, carbon emissions, you name it.

Policy is one way, then, that we can start to fix some of those terrible environmental problems we hear about every day. It’s the route I’m pursuing with my studies at the Nicholas School.

But it’s not the only way. That was made obvious to me over the past year, when I traded my 9-5 routine for a series of one-way plane tickets around the world.

Everywhere I traveled, I met people who were working to make their environment richer, cleaner, and more productive, in places where the government couldn’t or wouldn’t step in to help. From forest managers in Costa Rica to butterfly farmers in Tanzania, I was constantly awed and inspired.

Much of the area around the Piro River in Costa Rica has been reforested.


My travels convinced me that solutions to environmental problems are everywhere. We should be talking about them much more than we are.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many times we read about the climate crisis, or the extinction crisis, or the deforestation crisis – none of those crises will get better unless we change the conversation and start discussing what to do about them.

That’s what I want to write about: ideas, stories, and examples from people who are already making things better. Maybe, by sharing a policy idea from Seattle (my hometown) that could also work in Durham, or thinking about an example from Africa in the context of Latin America, we can start spreading the best solutions around the world.

Which brings me to the title of this blog: so what is silver buckshot, anyway?

Back in May 2006, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Bill McKibben, a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College who would go on to become a leader of the climate change movement.

The nation was still enraptured by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” had just hit theaters, so the title of McKibben’s article came as no surprise: “Welcome to the Climate Crisis.”

In the article, McKibben implored his audience not to pin their hopes on an easy way out of this frightening new reality. “There are no silver bullets,” he wrote. “Only silver buckshot.”

In other words, no single new technology or act of Congress can halt climate change in its tracks. But spraying a lot of smaller solutions at the problem – energy efficiency standards, better solar technology, cap-and-trade systems, you name it – might collectively get the job done.

That idea stuck with me long after I read the article. I’d heard the same advice in dozens of other situations: if a problem is too big to tackle on its own, break it up into smaller problems and work on those. So why limit that philosophy to climate change? Why not spray buckshot at the crisis of species extinction, and the crisis of deforestation, and so many others?

Now more than ever, we need some silver buckshot.

The good news is that there’s already plenty of it out there. I’m excited to share silver buckshot stories from the Nicholas School and beyond.

And you’re part of this too – you can follow Silver Buckshot, share posts around the Internet, add stories of your own in the comments.

Now let’s start exploring.

Big Meadows trail in Sequoia National Forest, California

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