A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a high school student in Michigan. She was working on a climate change research project and wanted to ask me a few questions, so of course I said yes. She asked me about my job at NASA, what I thought were the most pressing aspects of Earth's changing climate, and the ocean's role in long-term climate trends.
But then there was this question: "I like to do everything I can each day to reduce my own contribution to climate change ... I want to encourage my peers to take small actions each day to help our climate, but will it really matter beyond making people feel good about themselves? ... It seems like there is nothing individuals can do."
Now I'm a pretty direct person, but I'm also fairly kind to high school students, especially those I've never even met. Yet this time, I let her have it: "You are wrong," I stated bluntly, wishing an error buzzer noise could accompany my outgoing email message. "You are wrong about your own contribution being insignificant. One person's efforts are hugely important and don't you ever forget it."
Sure, I understand it's easy to feel completely overwhelmed and powerless in the face of a tremendous problem such as climate change. I work on a climate change website every day--I get it. Just thinking about climate change and other environmental issues gets depressing. These problems are too big; they feel insurmountable. And then when you want to do something, it seems like whatever you do is too small, like a tiny drop in a gigantic pit.
But each and every single individual action, no matter how small it may seem, adds to what ultimately makes a difference. You may think, "One person isn't going to make a big difference; it's not going to be a big deal." But taking responsibility for how your life affects the environment is a huge deal.
The Earth is amazing. And when you look at the view from space you see that the whole Earth is your home, our home. You see that what happens on the other side of the planet matters.
So go ahead: Take the journey from "there's not much I can do" to "there are many things I will commit to doing." Because together, our individual actions can make a bigger impact than you might ever imagine. Since Earth Day is coming up on April 22, now is the perfect time to begin that journey.
As we rush through our busy lives, sometimes we forget to appreciate how much we care about this place we call home. I hope that if all of us take a moment to acknowledge and remember our planet, we'll feel more connected with it. And that's one small step toward making it a better place.
This post originally appeared on NASA's Earth Right Now blog.