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Taking action on climate change: Why me? Why now?

By Mary Leyser - posted Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Talk of climate change is all around us. In fact, some might argue, this talk is so pervasive that one might assume that everything is being taken care of, that now we’ve read the headlines and made a donation to an environmental NGO, our consciences can be clear and we can all go back to our normal lives. Nothing could be further from the truth.

With the February release of the IPCC report on the overwhelming scientific evidence of human-driven climate change, the verdict has come in: climate change is occurring, and at a much faster rate than natural cycles have ever gone before.

The cause: unsustainable practices and technologies, and our use and abuse of the same. Lured by our excitement and enthusiasm over everything we as individuals, whether personally or in social, industrial or governmental groups, can do (after all, we’re only human), we have neglected one key consideration: just because we can, does that mean we should? And if we do, what are the implications? As a result of our misguided but by-and-large good intentions, the proverbial chickens have come home to roost, and they’ve brought with them the unwelcome spectre of potential catastrophic climate change.


So now what? What can we do, that isn’t already being done? What can I do, what can you do, as individuals, that could possibly make a difference? The answer is simple: a lot.

Regardless of one’s personal reason for action, be this a moral or ethical principle, a feeling of social responsibility, the thought of one’s great-grandchildren living in a world much different than that we now know, or simply the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with doing the right thing, there is much that each person can do. All it takes is opening one’s eyes to the possibilities.

The first step in any change is knowledge. We can begin by educating ourselves: about the issues, the implications for each of us, and how each of us can take action.

Not sure where to start? This week the second volume of the IPCC 2007 report on climate change “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” will be released in Brussels. Get a copy and read it, then follow the ensuing debate and proceedings on the report’s findings, such as the IPCC’s February testimony before the US House Committee on Science and Technology.

Perhaps most importantly, we should not simply accept the viewpoints voiced by either camp. Applying basic critical thinking, let’s test the evidence to the best of our abilities, giving these issues our own personal due diligence. Learn about the scientific research, review, and publication processes and then, bearing this in mind, critically analyse these information sources. Who is behind these claims, and why? Where is the support coming from for these sources?

What personal threats and opportunities are at stake for those who take part in the public debate and those who stay out of it? For those who affirm and those who deny climate change? Are there potential conflicts of interest? As TJ Watson said, “The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer”.


As we educate ourselves, let’s start talking: to our families, our colleagues, our neighbours. Many people, including myself, feel that we are approaching a social tipping point at which individuals around the globe will recognise the paradigm shift necessary to effect change and will take swift action accordingly. To reach this point, we must build on our current momentum, working together to reach our communities and governments.

Get involved with local organisations, from environmental groups to political parties, from religious and philosophical organisations to educational initiatives. Work with your neighbours to host public discussions on these topics. Encourage debate, as a foundational value of democratic principles. True, we may not know all the answers yet, but we can ask questions, exchange ideas and raise awareness. Such is the task of the empowered and empowering citizen.

While we’re educating ourselves and talking to friends and colleagues, we can be taking personal action. Herein lies the key, as many have pointed out: the technologies needed are out there - now all that is required is the personal and political will - and the discipline - to act. We can start by calculating our individual carbon footprints and by adjusting and offsetting them as appropriate. After all, we can hardly expect industries and governments to take steps that we ourselves are not willing to take.

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You are invited to join the EcoRes Forum for the first in a series of online e-conferences focusing on the ethical, political and socio-cultural aspects of climate change. The series starts off in April 2007 with a two-week dialogue discussing the need for a global paradigm shift in order to effectively address the issues of climate change. The forum brings together more than 500 academics and activists, scientists and social critics, journalists, community leaders and concerned citizens from over 80 countries. This dialogue is certain to be an enriching and enlightening experience for all involved. Online registration is now available: join us!

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About the Author

Mary Leyser is founder and executive director of the EcoRes Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organisation dedicated to the free exchange of knowledge and ideas concerning society and climate change.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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