USING YOUR ENERGIES WISELY…. At first blush, this opinion piece from Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, may seem discouraging. The headline reads, “To really save the planet, stop going green.” As the talks in Copenhagen get underway, it’s probably not the message activists were hoping for.

But Tidwell’s piece is important, and is not at all what it may initially appear to be. The item encourages Americans to effectively give up on their individual efforts — “No more compact fluorescent light bulbs. No more green wedding planning. No more organic toothpicks for holiday hors d’oeuvres” — and direct their concern into “large-scale change.”

This is not to say personal action is irrelevant. Tidwell explains that he himself has solar panels on his roof, a Prius in his driveway, and sticks to a “low-carbon-footprint vegetarian diet.”

Rather, the larger point has two key angles: 1) the sweeping policy changes necessary for systemic change need collective, governmental action; and 2) individual efforts may give the impression of mass progress while, alas, most folks aren’t willing to make meaningful environmental-related changes in their lives.

As America joins the rest of the world in finally fighting global warming, we need to bring our battle plan up to scale. If you believe that astronauts have been to the moon and that the world is not flat, then you probably believe the satellite photos showing the Greenland ice sheet in full-on meltdown. Much of Manhattan and the Eastern Shore of Maryland may join the Atlantic Ocean in our lifetimes. Entire Pacific island nations will disappear. Hurricanes will bring untold destruction. Rising sea levels and crippling droughts will decimate crops and cause widespread famine. People will go hungry, and people will die.

Morally, this is sort of a big deal. It would be wrong to let all this happen when we have the power to prevent the worst of it by adopting clean-energy policies. […]

Ours is a nation of laws; if we want to alter our practices in a deep and lasting way, this is where we must start. After years of delay and denial and green half-measures, we must legislate a stop to the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.

Of course, all this will require congressional action, and therein lies the source of Obama’s Copenhagen headache. To have been in the strongest position to negotiate a binding emissions treaty with other world leaders this month, the president needed a strong carbon-cap bill out of Congress. But the House of Representatives passed only a weak bill riddled with loopholes in June, and the Senate has failed to get even that far.

So what’s the problem? There’s lots of blame to go around, but the distraction of the “go green” movement has played a significant role. Taking their cues from the popular media and cautious politicians, many Americans have come to believe that they are personally to blame for global warming and that they must fix it, one by one, at home. And so they either do as they’re told — a little of this, a little of that — or they feel overwhelmed and do nothing.

We all got into this mess together. And now, with treaty talks underway internationally and Congress stalled at home, we need to act accordingly. Don’t spend an hour changing your light bulbs. Don’t take a day to caulk your windows. Instead, pick up a phone, open a laptop, or travel to a U.S. Senate office near you and turn the tables: “What are the 10 green statutes you’re working on to save the planet, Senator?”

Ideally, I’d like to think folks would contact lawmakers and then go ahead and make personal changes (light bulbs, caulking, etc.). But at this point, if it’s about bang for the buck, the real action has to come at the governmental level. And politicians being politicians, they’ll act when there’s an electoral incentive to do so.

Post Script: On a related note, don’t forget you can keep up on developments at the COP15 Climate Change Conference with this video stream right here.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.