My newly adopted home state is on fire again: Scorching heat and lightning strikes have sparked dozens of fires across California, burning an area the size of Rhode Island. Iowa is reeling from a deadly derecho. The Mountain West is suffering through a severe drought. Towns and cities all over are experiencing one of the hottest summers on record, if not the hottest. And a hurricane just tore through the Gulf Coast.

With climate change making extreme weather events more intense and more common, and Congress continuing to ignore this existential threat, I have tried to do my part. After moving to California, I went on a no-buy streak. I began refusing short plane trips, using public transit or walking whenever possible, and turning the air-conditioning down. I even started carrying around a water bottle or a mason jar.

Could it be that my decision to go green is pointless, or even harmful? “Performative environmentalism” is more about personal virtue than saving the planet, says the writer s.e. smith in a searing essay, and puts the focus on the micro and futile rather than the macro and important. Polluters have convinced us that it is consumers’ fault, argues the activist George Monbiot, who also argues that we cannot buy our way out of a crisis caused by untrammeled consumption. Neoliberalism has wrested the responsibility for environmental action from the C-suite and the statehouse to the individual home, says the journalist Martin Lukacs. No less an authority than Michael Mann, the renowned climatologist, has made a version of this same argument, as have manymany other thinkers.

Companies are where the fault lies, the argument goes: Just 20 of them are responsible for 35 percent of global emissions since 1965, according to a report by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute. “The corporations blame the consumers,” Heede told me in an interview. “They say, ‘We’re just the producers. We’re satisfying public demand.’” But those companies confuse the public, sow distrust of climate science, and impede policy changes in order to keep profiting while the world burns.Governments are where true salvation lies, the argument continues: There is no real hope for keeping global warming below those all-important targets without raising the price of carbon, lowering the price of green energy, and pushing subsidies and other policies to get the world to adapt and decarbonize as fast as possible. Political action in the United States is what matters, for the country and the world.The critics are right that focusing on individuals is a grave error if it obscures corporate culpability and systemic solutions. But I’m not about to get rid of my canvas bags and mason jars, buy a second car, or start taking short flights again. Talking with economists, climate scientists, and psychologists convinced me that depersonalizing climate change, such that the only answers are systemic, is a mistake of its own. It misses how social change is built on a foundation of individual practice.

On one point, the experts agree: In terms of the pencil-to-paper carbon math, no matter how much of an emitter you are—flying around the world on a private jet, keeping several houses cooled to 62 degrees in the summer and warmed to 75 in the winter, eating Argentinian filet and French champagne at every meal—your contribution to climate change is minuscule and any consumption changes you might make even more so. Recycling, cutting back on driving, and changing out old light bulbs for energy-efficient ones might save half a ton of carbon a year. A household going car-free, flight-free, and vegan—changes impractical, if not outright impossible, for many families to make—might redu