Finding Reality

In my last environmental post, Chasing Reality, I wrote to the need for people – whether as citizens, corporate workers, governmental employees, members of a society, nation, the human race – to recognize that climate change is real and is here, right now. As psychologists are wont to say: the first step on the long road to recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem.

Amongst the scientists, philosophers, ethicists, and public policy makers who think about these things climate change is recognized as a multi-faceted problem of immense scale. It is not only an economic, political, scientific and social problem but it is also an ethical problem, the likes of which we as a species have never had to confront before.

Mixed in with ethical discussions about what the First World is doing to Third World peoples or how we will impact future generations, are challenging questions about what individuals’ responsibilities are, if any, to address climate change. On the one extreme there is the argument that individuals’ impacts are negligible whilst the other viewpoint counters with the (not un-reasonable) premise that all green house gas emissions matter (see links below).

A recent study postulates that individuals can indeed have a harmful impact on climate change via their actions (or inactions). The degree of this impact can and is being debated, but at the same time other studies clearly show that perceived individual ineffectiveness is justification for inaction. The prevailing trend is to try to insert the Individual into the climate change solutions matrix in a productive and responsible fashion. This does in no way negate the overwhelming need for governmental and business responses, as some have pointed out. To that end, it seems obvious that without a major, significant change in both public policies and corporate behaviors, we will continue to tread this same path of inaction.

As individuals though, we can have an impact in two ways: as good citizens and as good consumers.

As citizens – whether of a community, a state, or a country – we have sets of obligations placed upon us that are designed to protect and benefit the greatest number, are often mandatory and therefore difficult to shirk. As Good Citizens we embrace values and actions that are communitarian, strategic, and voluntary. In the realm of climate change mitigation these can include:

  • Strive to change your workplace to become more green
  • Encourage businesses to become more energy efficient and sustainable
  • Write letters-to-the-editor or opinion-editorial pieces for your local papers
  • Advocate for change and hold accountable your elected officials
  • Submit comments to regulatory or policy agencies
  • Petition your city council or county board of supervisors to set minimum LEED standards
  • Report environmental violations
  • Become involved in climate change non-profits

Regarding the latter, I am a strong believer in the power of writing and petitioning elected officials. But, as one individual, I am sanguine about the affect of one on a legislative body of many (especially if they are intransigent or even hostile). Therefore, I am an even bigger believer in the power of organization. There are a number of environmental non-profits who have made climate change mitigation one of their key platforms. In addition, there are several for whom climate change mitigation is their ONLY campaign. (See below for suggested links.) Joining AND working with them multiplies the power of one, many-fold.

Many of us are already working to be good consumers. We recycle, bike where and when we can, turn unused lights off, etc. Here is a comprehensive – but surely not complete – list of things we can do to be Good Consumers:

  • Drive a more fuel-efficient car (think hybrid or all-electric).
  • Walk more, bike more, and consider public transportation.
  • Buy local that is truly local and try to avoid goods that are shipped from overseas.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables and less meats.
  • Minimize the use of plastics (including those nasty, ubiquitous water bottles!).
  • Use cloth not paper napkins.
  • Turn the key and be idle-free.
  • Reuse and recycle what you can.
  • Consume less.
  • Vacation closer to home and for business consider video/web conferencing.
  • Prevent heat (or cool) loss by weatherizing your home.
  • During the winter, dress warmer and turn down the heat.
  • During the summer, turn off or down the air conditioning. If you live in a dry-climate state, consider an evaporative cooler rather than AC.
  • Going on vacation? Unplug those electrical devices!
  • Replace your aging appliances with new energy efficient ones.
  • Turn off lights when not in use and use energy efficient bulbs.
  • Use cold water wash.
  • Forego the electric/gas dryer and hang your clothes outside.
  • Choose to shop with or buy products from businesses that have invested in renewable energy or produce products sustainably.
  • Explore the use of alternative energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal (tax credits may apply!).
  • Purchase renewable energy credits to help fund more renewable energy sources.
  • Join a Community Choice Aggregation system if you are lucky enough to be in one of the few areas that have implemented one.
  • Participate in one of The Arts Organization’s P2EASE courses.  (These are an in-development  set of online courses focused on environmental and sustainability issues.)

These are not just ‘feel-goodisms’ but real and measurable changes. Many of these also have the side-benefits of reducing expenses, reducing landfills, and perhaps also reducing your waistline. What is not to like about that?

Let’s work so that Good Governments and Good Businesses finally have no choice but to come together, acknowledge the climate change threat, and follow what the Good Citizens and Good Consumers are already doing.


Climate Change Organizations (these are just a few of the many that are doing good work):

Sierra Club Climate Recovery Partnership


Citizens Climate Lobby

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

Environmental Defense Fund



Article links:

Individual Responsibility for Climate Change

Philosophical Debate on Individual’s Impact on Climate Change

It’s Not My Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations

Climate Change and the Ethics of Individual Emissions: A Response to Sinnott-Armstrong

As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.

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Finding Reality | TAO • The Arts Organization


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