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:
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:
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):
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.