Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

You Control Climate Change - Or Do You?
Alex Steffen, 30 May 06

The EU's new anti-global warming campaign, You Control Climate Change, launched Monday. The focus is on individual action ("Turn down. Switch off. Recycle. Walk."):

The 50 practical tips included in the campaign range from turning off lights, recycling materials and not using cars. Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the campaign highlighted individual responsibility. The campaign also targets pupils, who will be encouraged to sign a pledge to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. EU member states will be launching the campaign at national level over the next few days.

Now, on the one hand, this is great news, with national climate action campaigns unfolding across Europe. This will no doubt raise awareness of need for action on the issue. It may as well get individuals to make real steps towards going climate neutral in their own lives.

But it is important that efforts not stop there. For one thing, individuals are responsible for only a fraction of greenhouse gas emissions --

Households are responsible for around 15% of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions. Private car use accounts for another 10%.

-- and it is not always possible for individuals to change those systems which commit them to even these emissions (as we discussed when covering Ford's new carbon offest programs). Obviously, we all want to do what we can, but most of the changes that need to be made are systemic -- they involve political action, engineering breakthroughs, market creation, design innovation and cultural change. We can, and should, each be part of helping this larger transformation unfold, but none of us can, in our own lives and on our own, create a bright green future.

To do that, we have to work together.

(Thanks, Lorenzo)

Bookmark and Share


People often overlook a simple thing we could all do to affect climate change....take your name off direct mailing lists. Reducing the amount of junk mail that comes to your home or business is also a way to reduce waste and lower carbon emissions..

The first step is to write to the Mail Preference Service of the Direct Marketing Association. Provide them with all possible variations of your name and address and request that your name be removed from their association’s mailing lists. The address is:

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 282
Carmel, NY 10512


Posted by: Sarita on 30 May 06

Actually, the 4 main sources of Carbon Emissions are: Energy production, Transportation, Buildings, and Industry. In everyone of these areas there are substantial commitments that individuals can make to reduce carbon emissions. For Energy production, there are ways to conserve energy in the first place. Additionally people can ask utilities where their energy comes from and switch to green energy credits.
For Transportation, there are plenty of ways to reduce carbon emissions, pick one. There is switching to hybrid or low-emission vehicles, there is walking, bicycling, rollerblading, or skateboarding, there is mass transit. Any one of these will help to reduce emissions, pick one.
For buildings, there are plenty of energy conservation technologies available. There is retrofitting old buildings as well as designing new buildings with higher energy efficiencies in the first place. There are many energy efficient appliances available, and we can also make the choice to live much more simple lives.
For industry, we can promote green businesses and green business models over the others. One example is to boycott Exxon while choosing BP instead. Voting with dollars works and businesses are finding that their environmental records are important factors in their competitiveness.

I am not denying that there are major social, cultural, technological, and moral challenges that we need to address together. I believe that Alex Steffan has done a good job of articulating the idea that both individual and social work needs to be done. What I am saying though is that there are many opportunities for individuals to get involved and to make a difference. The more people who are empowered to believe that there are things they themselves can do to improve the world's situation, the more likely it is that we will have the necessary foundation for a greater societal shift.

Posted by: Jeremy Kirouac on 30 May 06

Of course we have to work together to change the climate...but as individuals we should be doing most of the work.

We are the investors who can push companies to implement climate friendly policies.

We are the manager who can develop a workplace environment that encourages at least some telecommuting and who pushes for mass transit alternatives for our employees.

We are the employees that push our management to provide telecommuting alternatives and mass transit benefits.

We are the buyer who purchases a energy efficient house instead of a 3000 sq ft McMansion with qa $200 month energy bill. Increasing demand for better housing will increase supply of better housing.

We are the consumer who thinks about gas mileage and purchases a car that gets at least 30 miles/gallon. This will encourage carmakers to make more efficient automobiles.

We are the consumers who think about the products we purchase instead of "impulse buying" a product that we don't need or which has a large impact on our climate.

We are the voters who select local politicians who believe in urban planning and not sprawl.

We are the small business owner who replaces all of her incandescent light bulb with compact fluorescents.

We have to realize that none of the above items are sacrifices. They are all smart things to do.... by being more efficient we help ourselves, we help our country and we help our world. Its a win-win-win.

Posted by: Joe Deely on 30 May 06

Joe Deely makes a good point in emphasising that some 'steps' need not be sacrifices. Often, the only effort involved is in changing habits. Even that is often far less than it may seem
(trivial example: I found fluwiki's(?) suggestion that you sneeze into your elbow to prevent transmission via hands was a conscious effort for a day or two. Now it's just automatic..didn't even need a conscious decision to persevere!)

If certain steps just require an effort to change habits, then an interesting corollary to catalysts arises. Is there perhaps something to reduce perceptions of the 'habit hump'?

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 30 May 06

Well yes (and no).

"Of course we have to work together to change the climate...but as individuals we should be doing most of the work.

We are the investors who can push companies to implement climate friendly policies."

And yet, as world-changing has recently pointed out (cant find the link, maybe someelse can, its the corporate 'they call it pollution we call it life' video) many companies are not just immune to this but actively involved in deep greenwashing and astro-turf campaigns.

We need to get over this idea that all comoanies will just come round to 'our way of thinking'. some (many) have deep-setaed vested interest. positive thinking is great naivety is damaging. yes to personal action but no to doing this to the exclusion of public alternatives and fighting and shutting down heavy-polluting and anti-ecological industry and commerce.

Gus @

Posted by: Gus Abraham on 31 May 06

IMHO the most important action we as "individuals" can do is to clearly demonstrate to local and national governments that we demand stricter legislation to limits carbon emissions
- in order to do this there is a need for an greater awareness of the current situation - what percentage of the general public has an idea of the current level of CO2 in PPM compared to the fluctuations in the last 400 000 years – there is a big difference between knowing in general that there is apparently a global warming problem to visualizing the size of the problem based on the numbers and beginning to start to realize the changes that will be required in an attempt to stabilize the problem (i.e.: a target of 0PPM CO2 increase per year – a utopian dream today, but one step at a time!) – an increase in the publics concern about the problems will make the governments role easier to undertake in implementing laws that would otherwise be unfavorable

-in general when laws are voted companies are obliged to follow them (minimum mpg for vehicles, compulsory solar panels on all new house construction) or they change public demand (increase on gas/petrol tax leading to demand for more efficient vehicles)
There is of course a fine balancing act between implementing restrictive laws concerning carbon emissions while still working with big business.

Concerning the “they call it pollution – we call it life campaign”, personally I feel the time has come when there is enough of a consensus in order that such propaganda campaigns at the very least carry a “health warning” message at the end concerning the fact that CO2 levels are at dangerously high levels which risk to cause irreversible climate change (much in the same way as we have on cigarette packets)

Small individual actions are important, but it is not that alone that can “save the planet”

Posted by: hugh on 31 May 06

It's a start. And an interesting one at that. (How the general public's collective conciousness reacts is but one point.)

Whilst as many have pointed out, the real heavy duty polluters are not the consumer, I have to sidle with those who say that it is the individual who can change that fact.

So, if the general populations concensus can be said to be enviromentally friendly, then I think we will see a change also from major prosent of the poulluters. (Yes, I am aware that is an idealistic statement, but hell, we need to aim high!)

I'm looking forward to see how this develops! (And I really wish that a campaign like this would land on norways feet!)

Posted by: Papilionoidea on 31 May 06

Carbon emissions “divided by” Population = amount of carbon per person regardless of the system. Industry cater to demand, demand is created by individuals.

Individuals should be educated to there Environmental footprint, and strive to a sustainable lifestyle it is every bodies collective and individual responsibility.

Simplistically pollution is the industrial by-product of catering to individual needs.

Individuals need to change there mind set, and then once they start to change they will realise they need to do more.

Posted by: Tim Whatt on 31 May 06

"Actually, the 4 main sources of Carbon Emissions are: Energy production, Transportation, Buildings, and Industry. In everyone of these areas there are substantial commitments that individuals can make to reduce carbon emissions."

-Actually, the point is precisely that most of the carbon emitted in these areas is emitted by institutional action, and there is in fact very little that individuals acting alone can do.

The question comes down to this: does this focus on indvidual action mobilize people or divert attention from the need to profoundly and immediately change larger systems, which can only happen through politics and collective action? I tend to believe the answer is the latter.

"as individuals we should be doing most of the work."

I disagree with the sentiment, but agree with the examples you cite: in other words, I think you're right that it is individuals who must change the systems in which they live and work, but individual lifestyle choices are nowhere near enough.

"IMHO the most important action we as "individuals" can do is to clearly demonstrate to local and national governments that we demand stricter legislation to limits carbon emissions "

I agree.

"Simplistically pollution is the industrial by-product of catering to individual needs."

Nonsense. Pollution is the result of bad design and careless behavior in the pursuit of profit. The decision to pollute is not a neccessary by-product of serving a market -- that's like saying child labor is a by-product of catering to individual needs....

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 1 Jun 06



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg