Individualized responsibility: 'if climate protection becomes everyone's responsibility, does it end up being no-one's?'

Jennifer Kent


Whereas global compacts, such as the Kyoto Protocol, have yet to consolidate action from governments on climate change, there has been increasing emphasis and acknowledgement of the role of individuals (as citizens and consumers) as contributors to climate change and as responsible agents in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, along with the acknowledgement of the threat that anthropogenic climate change presents to the planet, governments and non-government organizations have focused on personal responsibility campaigns targeting individuals and households with a view to stemming the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. The Australian Government, for example, spent $25 million in 2007 on the climate change information campaign targeted to every Australian household, ‘Be Climate Clever: “I can do that”. Such measures centre on “personal, private-sphere ….. behaviour” (Stern 2005: 10786) that focuses on the “choice of goods, services and lifestyles” (WWF-UK 2008: 10) and imply that global greenhouse gas emission reduction targets can be met through the actions of individuals. There is growing concern in some quarters about climate change programs that emphasize individual behaviour change strategies that use “simple and painless steps” (WWF-UK 2008) and “small steps add up” (Accountability and Consumers International 2007) approaches. The emergent fear is that given the urgency of the climate change problem that such approaches will mean important opportunities for citizen-led action will be lost. This paper will explore how notions of individual responsibility have arisen and what the trend towards individualized responsibility may mean for active citizenship on climate change.

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