“A sense of unity is the best remedy against powerlessness”

“A sense of unity is the best remedy against powerlessness”


Author and podcaster Gabriel Baunach believes it is wrong to concentrate solely on reducing our personal carbon footprint. It is at least as important to grow our climate handprint – meaning working together to get the political and economic sectors on track to protect the climate.

Mr Baunach, I am one of those people who is actively trying to reduce their carbon footprint. That means I cycle as much as possible, I have solar panels on the roof of my house and yes – I use a wooden toothbrush. Now you are talking about a carbon footprint myth. What do you mean by that?

We are concentrating too much on what we as individuals can do about the climate crisis. But that is a dangerous focus. Because if I am just worrying about switching off the lights at home, I am ignoring the really decisive political and economic levers. Encouraging people to examine their personal carbon footprint is a diversionary tactic which shifts responsibility to the individual.

But is there any argument against people first reducing their own emissions?

No – for many people, addressing their own carbon footprint is also the starting point for their commitment to the climate. However, this approach would have us each confront this enormous climate crisis alone – rather than acting together, which is much more effective.

But thinking about our carbon footprint doesn’t hurt. Or does it?

It can become problematic if the feeling of being unable to really change things leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness. Because you end up giving up eventually. Besides, focusing exclusively on our carbon footprint encourages finger- pointing at ourselves or our fellow human beings. This quickly moves to debating about guilt, shame or sanctimonious attitudes.

Okay, so it’s a matter of actuating larger levers. What could that look like?

We need a second concept here: the climate handprint – to refer to putting our hands to the largest levers in the world, both politically and economically. We all need to act together to achieve that. For example, you could address the climate crisis in groups with people who are important to you and to whom you are important – but it is best to avoid falling into frustrating, morally charged debates about driving cars or eating meat, and instead stay constructive. By that I mean discussing how each person in the group can increase their climate handprint. In my experience, people feel more readily motivated to do something for the big picture rather than changing their individual consumption.

What does that mean?

For example, defining your own career as part of the solution. We work an average of 80,000 hours in our lifetime, so our choice of career is a major lever. And those who can’t or don’t want to change career can help drive the transition towards sustainable practices from their place of employment. It is also important to come together with colleagues to make a change. For example, you could advocate for having more vegetarian or vegan dishes in the canteen, or encourage people to take the train rather than a flight for business trips. And you could perhaps also urge your company to take a stand on climate policy. Engagement in local government is another major lever, but that also takes some time. However, there are other mechanisms:

We can act through direct democratic means, for example by starting petitions, participating in or even organising demonstrations, and of course, voting. On this matter it is worth carefully looking beyond the climate policy buzzwords at what the various parties are actually working towards. Climate-related lawsuits are another important option that should be borne in mind – whether you take legal action yourself or join or support other actions.

So the handprint should replace the footprint?

It is not a matter of either/or, but rather of arriving at the most effective and the comfortable combination of both – and that is something everyone must feel for themselves. Am I more of a handprint person, who enjoys engaging as part of a group and has a little patience because I know that political processes simply take time? Or do I prefer to think in terms of things that are directly connected with my life? The answer will determine how the combination shifts between increasing your handprint and reducing your footprint.

Reducing their carbon footprint increases people’s feeling of having agency. As I’m sure you know, this is often not the case when it comes to the handprint. What helps you personally to persevere and remain optimistic?

More than anything, talking with like-minded people – meaning those who really understand the situation we find ourselves in. One positive side effect of increasing our handprint is that we get to know people who are similar to us in their attitudes. This sense of unity is the best remedy against powerlessness. The issue of resilience is also hugely important to me. In particular, this means prioritising mental health more than was previously necessary, in light of the economic mega- crisis we are experiencing. I’m talking about being aware of what does you good and helps you keep hope alive. Because we need that. As the stoics might say: hope, in spite of everything!

What do you want to do?

Here are a few suggestions for increasing your climate handprint:

Define one climate hour per week for yourself, e.g. for further education or engagement.

• Switch to an ecologically and socially responsible bank (good balance between effort and effect)

• Decide on one form of engagement that suits you best. For example:

• Speak with people in your personal environment about solutions to the climate crisis

• Set up a climate group in your company to promote the topic of climate protection (less meat in the canteen, rail instead of air travel for business trips, e-bikes instead of cars as ‘company vehicles’, public stance, etc.)

• Political engagement (municipal politics, NGOs, participating in demonstrations, citizens’ initiatives, etc.)

• Set up or join climate actions

• Vote in a climate-conscious manner

• Write letters to newspapers, radio and TV stations, etc.

• Donate to climate protection organisations

• Commit to climate protection education (as part of a parents’ council, adjusting teaching plans, etc.)

Raising hands to fight climate change!

If you want to do something about climate change, you need to reduce your carbon footprint – that’s the popular view. Shop local, use LED lightbulbs, consume less… But in his book, climate expert Gabriel Baunach explains how we can personally effect climate protection in a way that is truly worthwhile and inspires hope: with hopeful handprints rather than footprint frustration.

Gabriel Baunach

Born in 1993, Gabriel Baunauch began focusing on the climate crisis at the tender age of 14. He studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and abroad, specialising in energy technology, and participated in the COP25 climate conference in Madrid together with the UN Climate Change Secretariat. He has been running the “Climaware“ climate information platform since 2020, and also produces podcasts and gives talks on the current status of the climate crisis as well as the climate handprint.