Climate Action Shouldn't Mean Choosing Between Personal And Political Responsibility

Climate Action Shouldn't Mean Choosing Between Personal And Political Responsibility Montreal climate march, September 27 2019. Maria Merlos/Shutterstock

Can your individual behaviour make a real difference to the environment? And should you be expected to voluntarily change your life in the face of our worsening environmental crises? Some argue this emphasis on personal responsibility is a distraction from the real culprits: companies and governments.

We often treat the decisions to find alternative ways of living more sustainably and to pursue political resistance against big polluters and inactive governments as separate. But our recent research found that the relationship between alternatives and resistance is really far more complex. One can often lead to the other.

Previous studies have shown that taking individual responsibility for the environment or developing green alternatives often go hand in hand with political action. Our research suggests that this relationship can form over time, and that when people change their lifestyles for environmental reasons this can galvanise their political action more generally. But we also found that this doesn’t always happen and that bringing the two together can be difficult.

Our first study, carried out with Soetkin Verhaegen of UCLouvain in Belgium, looked at the environmental actions of a group of over 1,500 politically interested Belgians between 2017 and 2018. We found that citizens who took individual actions such as buying ethical products, changing how they travelled or producing their own food or energy, became more politically active over time. This included interacting with political institutions (for example, contacting elected politicians) and other actions such as taking part in protests.

Our research suggests that taking individual responsibility for the environment increases your concern for it, which in turn motivates you to participate in other forms of action. While the effect was quite small, this seems to be good news for environmental movements. It shows that when people (at least the politically interested ones) can be motivated to adopt modest lifestyle changes, they can, in turn, become politically active in more a general sense.

Yet on a practical level, trying to encourage both individual alternatives and political resistance isn’t easy, as we found in our study of two organisations promoting local food and energy systems in Manchester in the UK. As well as having limited time, the organisations found political activism sometimes conflicted with their aim of promoting alternative lifestyle projects to the broadest possible audience. As one interviewee put it: “If we’re trying to influence the uptake of solutions, then being seen as the opposition … isn’t particularly productive.”

Climate Action Shouldn't Mean Choosing Between Personal And Political Responsibility The personal can become political. Paul McKinnon/Shutterstock


 Get The Latest From InnerSelf


However, we’ve also seen how bringing alternatives and resistance together can be done, and that its success can depend on location. In a series of in-depth interviews with environmental organisers in Bristol, we found the activists strongly benefited from their city’s compact size and layout (when compared to Manchester). Being more likely to bump into people from other activist groups means that, according to one interviewee, “your socialising is political”.

The result was that activists in Bristol were better at maintaining relationships between different groups and at keeping the social side of activism going than in Manchester. This enabled a crossover of participants between the alternatives and resistance sides of the movement.

Some started growing their own food and ended up defending their allotments against urban developments. Others who were initially protesting against supermarkets ended up in a food-growing scheme.

Pursuing alternatives also helped sustain the resistance activities. This was both because the alternatives often involved a more positive experience and because they made it easier to point to viable solutions during environmental protests.

Increasing involvement

So from a campaigner’s point of view, there’s little evidence that promoting alternative lifestyle choices and political resistance are mutually exclusive. In fact, in many cases the two feed into each other in positive ways, especially in the form of spillover from participation in one form of action to another.

The effect we found was quite small and spillover will certainly not happen automatically. But that suggests there’s an important role for organisers to stimulate it further. Different organisations are needed to provide both personal and political activities and encourage more (and more diverse) people to get involved.

For most ordinary people concerned, the debate over the effectiveness of taking individual responsibility for the environment is likely to continue. Our research at least suggests that people motivating each other to take personal action doesn’t undermine a broader environmental project. But it’s still important for people to discuss what other action is needed, and to look for or even organise ways to put pressure on powerful actors to take their responsibility.

About The Author

Joost de Moor, Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University; Brian Doherty, Professor of Political Sociology, Keele University, and Philip Catney, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

FROM THE EDITORS

InnerSelf Newsletter: September 6, 2020
by InnerSelf Staff
We see life through the lenses of our perception. Stephen R. Covey wrote: “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.” So this week, we take a look at some…
InnerSelf Newsletter: August 30, 2020
by InnerSelf Staff
The roads we are travelling these days are as old as the times, yet are new for us. The experiences we are having are as old as the times, yet they also are new for us. The same goes for the…
When The Truth Is So Terrible It Hurts, Take Action
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Amidst all the horrors taking place these days, I am inspired by the rays of hope that shine through. Ordinary people standing up for what is right (and against what is wrong). Baseball players,…
When Your Back Is Against The Wall
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf
I love the internet. Now I know a lot of people have a lot of bad things to say about it, but I love it. Just like I love the people in my life -- they are not perfect, but I love them anyway.
InnerSelf Newsletter: August 23, 2020
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone probably can agree that we are living in strange times... new experiences, new attitudes, new challenges. But we can be encouraged in remembering that everything is always in flux,…