From our first post in this series, we identified that research shows 80% of Americans see Global Warming as a threat, yet only 30% feel personal responsibility for our environment.
As we asked in that post “Why are most of us concerned about environmental issues and climate change yet do not feel personally responsible?”
Could it be that we believe we are too small to make a difference?
As David Roberts points out:
The average American household generates something on the order of 60 tons of direct and indirect CO2 emissions a year. So the average American household is responsible for 1/13,750,000,000 of the harm. That number is too large, or rather too small, for the ratio to make any intuitive sense. The distance between our acts and the aggregate harm they do is so vast as to utterly confound our imaginations.
He is right – it is hard to imagine numbers like that!
Having the cumulative numbers large, though, does not eliminate the impact we have as individuals. A great example of this which we are becoming much more used can be found in election results. We are getting more and more used to national or State elections where margins of victory are down to the narrowest of possible margins in which the outcomes effecting the direction of the nation are significantly impacted by the population of an average city block or two.
The active word here is cumulative.
David Roberts refers in his post to Julian Sanchez who says:
“It is not enough…to ask whether one’s actions cause harm when considered in isolation; rather, we should also consider whether our actions are part of a system or pattern of similar conduct that in the aggregate causes harm, even if no individual’s action makes a perceptible difference to the outcome.”
The answer to that consideration is, of course, “Yes, our actions ARE a part of a system that in aggregate causes harm”!
I believe the reason for the disconnect between indicators of concern and indicators of a feeling of personal responsibility among us is due to alienation. A feeling that the avenues available to us as individuals to impact change are too small to make any real impact. Making sure we turn off lights when not needed does hardly seem up to the task of dealing with 40 Gigatonnes of annual greenhouse gas emission. To quote the prolific David Roberts again “Even the most committed climate hawk is enmeshed in systems that burn carbon, even if they have solar panels on the roof and a Leaf in the driveway”.
We feel concern, we would like to see change, but because we exist in a world deeply rooted in fossil fuels, we know in our hearts that we are a part of the cause, yet we see no way of changing the system – hence alienation. It is tough to feel responsible for something when we don’t feel like we can change it.
The power of the aggregate, however, is just as meaningful as the impact of the cumulative. The truth is that the impact human’s have on our world is not singular, but collective. The opportunity, then, is for each of us to take responsibilty for our own piece of that impact and make change in our small part of the paleBLUEdot. Turn off those lights, ride your bike more, avoid unneccessary consumption. Your impact will still be there, but you will be doing physically what you can within the choices currently available to you.
And for the impact you cannot yet control – offset. By offsetting the impact you benefit from, you receive two rewards: the first is a quantified reduction in greenhouse gas equal to the impact you were unable to avoid. The second reward, however, is that through investing in offsets today, we are actually increasing the infrastructure of renewable resources available to us all. The more we are willing to invest as individuals in this infrastructure, the more choices we will have available to us and our children tomorrow.