In my last post I posed the question: Who specifically is responsible for addressing climate change and reducing GHG emissions? Today I provide one possible answer.

I believe that considerable, if not the brunt of, responsibility ought to lie with consumers. However, it is unlikely that individuals accustomed to unlimited choice among a glut of competing products and services will willingly, and of their own initiative, alter their buying patterns. We will need nudging.

First, addressing climate change at a personal level requires assessing tradeoffs between short-term and long-term benefits. Extensive research on temporal discounting shows that we aren’t particularly good at this balancing act. We tend to overvalue smaller short term gains relative to more significant benefits in the long term. An expensive vacation in more appealing than saving for retirement. A mound of tasty nachos with a couple of cold beers is more enticing than worrying about weight problems in the future.

Second, we are governed by a flight of fight reflex and do best in situations when our responses bring clear and immediate results. Run like hell from the saber tooth tiger – or hit him on the head with a club. Addressing climate change does not fit this mold. There is nowhere to run to, and any fight actions we can take – driving less or not at all, eating less meat or none at all – don’t produce immediately recognizable benefits in terms of problem mitigation.

Finally, many feel that the situation is hopeless. When the general public constantly reads of policy failures in meeting climate goals, when climate experts such as Armin Grunwald openly express their pessimism “the clock has been at two minutes to doomsday since 1986,” ennui and despair understandably set in.

Granted, not all are apathetic. Against this backdrop, many do take to the streets – Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion – demanding change, demanding that somebody do something. But for many others, often older generations, such activist movements are difficult to identify with. The demands are too nebulous, the tone too morally self-righteous, and, with the repetitiveness of the demonstrations, many observers castigate youthful activists as little more than irritating Zweckpessimisten.

Achieving climate neutrality goals, however, will require the active participation of all segments of society. Currently there are large demographics that are quite simply not being reached.

What can be done to engage more segments of society in addressing climate change? Leave a comment.

5 thoughts on “Climate Change Responsibility

  1. The reason XR and other assorted eco warrior groups are failing is that they are essentially comprised of metropolitan trust fund communists. They sneer at the blue collar communities for their lifestyle choices, inconceivable, in their eyes, that these poor (financial) people do not have the means to buy organic or purchase the state of the art electric car. Until eco activism displaces itself from these people it hasn’t got a chance of gathering the support of a critical mass.
    In terms of ‘who is responsible’, I believe the answer is a) the 500-1000 or so global companies that have driven economic policy within western governments (encouraging Govts/central banks to lend credit and have people using that credit to buy their easily disposable products- thus generating this ‘consumer society’), b) the governments of the largest polluters of in the world (USA, China et al).
    The consumer is no more responsibile than any of those actors. Those who weild the power, and hold the gold, should be responsible.

    1. Hi Jordan,
      Thanks for your comment. I like the phrase “metropolitan trust fund communists”. Beautiful. Global corporation clearly also bear responsibility. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on this subject. 🙂

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