Getting Personal With Climate Change

Responsibility without choice is torment. Choice without responsibility is greed.
— Leland R. Beaumont

In the history of human-kind, we live in the coolest period of time yet. Ours is an unprecedented time: the highest numbers of educated people, longest life expectancies and decreasing poverty, the lowest number of undernourished people, decreasing violence and war (believe it or not!), and the greatest connectivity within the human race that has ever existed is all happening right now. 

Our time is also one of unprecedented human impact on the Earth.  Within the time that the average human has been alive (39 years), the Earth’s human population has increased 183%; global energy usage per person has increased roughly 225% and greenhouse gas emissions have increased 215%.  Over 3.7 Billion acres (roughly the size of the Russian Federation) of additional land has been transformed for human purposes with 1.23 Billion acres of forest destroyed, and conservative estimates are that 390,000 species have gone extinct.

Our continued dependance on fossil fuels for the majority of our energy needs has begun to affect our climate in exactly the ways predicted 120 years ago.  The linkage between our advancements, our consumerism, and our impact on this Earth is clear.  In fact, our species’ impact on our planet is so extensive that we have now entered the Anthropocene geological period defined not by millenia-long development of Earth formations, but instead by the impact of a single species: us.

We are so adept at using energy and manipulating the environment that we are now a defining force in the geological process on the surface of the Earth
— Jan Zalasiewicz, paleobiologist with the University of Leicester in the U.K.

The great news is that there is a growing awareness among Americans of our impact and an increasing interest in seeing something done about it:

  • 80% believe Global Warming is a serious threat (Associated Press)
  • 73% worry about air pollution “great deal” or “fair amount” (Gallup)
  • 67% believe we must make changes within 10 years to effectively fight climate change (Bloomberg)
  • 67% want to see increased spending on development of Alternative Energy (Gallup)

The not so great news is while a large number of people are concerned about our environmental future, only 30% feel personally responsible for it (Harris).

This begs the question - Why are most of us concerned about environmental issues and climate change yet do not feel personally responsible?  We’ll explore a few thoughts on this over the next couple posts. 

Please let us know what you think is behind us having a low sense of responsibility on issues we seem to care strongly about!