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The War And Victory Between Human Behaviour and Climate Change

Climate change is a serious problem, 99.9% of peer-reviewed scientific papers and 75% of Americans agree (Ramanujan, 2021; Strozewski, 2021). Despite this majority consensus, both corporations and individuals have yet to create dramatic shifts to reach environmental sustainability. Anthropogenic climate change, as its name implies, is caused by human activity and thus our actions and behaviours are the most significant driving forces of the climate crisis. Nonetheless, understanding the fundamental behaviours of humans is also the key to inducing societal change. Despite the significant contribution corporations play in the acceleration of climate change, the responsibility individuals have is greater due to our power and ability to invoke immediate change.

Image from Emily and Errita (2022).

The context of human behaviour and instincts is imperative to understanding how to tackle the climate crisis because it helps us understand what the root causes of this issue are. Our selfishness doesn’t only mean that we play major role in contributing to climate change – whether it be our willingness to invest in unethical companies that have significant monetary growth, or buy cheaper alternatives that are likely produced in loosely regulated low-income communities – but we can utilize our selfish natures to build new moral codes and a culture built on the foundation of environmental sustainability. The leverage we have and willingness to abide by our moral codes makes us the perfect candidate to initiate and enforce climate action rather than solely relying on policies and corporations. As individuals, we are consumers and investors, the two key actors when discussing anthropogenic climate change. Let’s explore their responsibilities detailedly.

Image from Young, R (2019).

Corporations change their practices, whether it be their products, store locations, or advertisements, based on the behaviours and wants of their target customers. All economists use the concept of “utility function” when building models to map consumer behaviour (Byskov, 2019). These models assume that consumers understand the range of alternative choices open to them and consequences of every possible choice, whether it be financial, environmental, or emotional (Byskov, 2019). Corporations use these models to understand the psychology behind their target markets to maximize their gain in any conceivable consumer dilemma. In an environmental context, the priorities of consumers change corporation’s willingness to provide more sustainable options. Sebastian Gatzer from McKinsey, stated that “survey respondents tend to overstate how likely they are to pay more for a green option,” a fact that is well-known to companies globally (Ballard, 2022). The rising trend of green customers for younger adults has opened new avenues that that age range while many other products and corporations have yet to change. By changing consumption patterns on a large scale, however, consumers have the leverage to influence companies and the way they produce, distribute, and formulate their products (Byskov, 2019). As consumers, especially the more privileged who can afford options, it’s important to understand our priorities and understand the individual responsibility we have to demand corporations to change through the way we consume.

Companies are profit-driven, and are only willing to do the bare minimum unless the benefits outweigh the costs and efforts (Bavaria et al., 1994). In the status quo, dramatic changes for coal and oil companies have no incentive to make dramatic changes in their practices due to hefty costs and a, still, very high demand for their products and services. Furthermore, corporations are focused on efficiency and effectiveness of environmental spending to avoid environmental expenditure obscuring them from getting more investors or losing current investors (Bavaria et al., 1994). Thus, blaming corporations only encourages unaccountability and ineffective voluntary action. However, as investors, corporations change their ways to appeal towards us, making us major stakeholders in their plans for the future. Those seeking to invest expect the companies they invest in to maintain and grow their value. I believe that it is in the commercial interests of future company shareholders to adopt higher environmental standards. Not only will tighter environmental regulations and shifting consumer behaviour create unprecedented futures of large non-green companies, meaning the pockets’ of investors are incredibly unpredictable, but it is our duty as investors to become “green consumers” (Bavaria et al., 1994). We all want our economic prosperity to be compatible with environmental protection, thus it’s important to reconsider our investment and personal priorities and have a broader view as investors and supporters of corporations (Bavaria et al., 1994).

Image from Emily and Errita (2022).

Responsibility is defined as a duty and moral obligation to perform a given act or set of acts (Fragnière, 2016). Blamefulness is not the sole determinant of responsibility, but power and capacity to act must also be considered. The simple fact that one individual’s carbon footprint is very minute compared to global emissions doesn’t mean that we ought not to take action on the climate crisis (Fragnière, 2016). It’s important to acknowledge that the accumulation of all these tiny contributions becomes great. Not only the accumulation towards climate change, but the accumulation of action we can and should enforce. When being surrounded by a culture heavily focused on demanding businesses and governmental entities to be the change, the climate crisis becomes more distant to individuals and incentive to act is diminished. Further, it’s important to note the focus on individuals also calls for greater democratic control and new social order that is dedicated to fostering collective action and working on social norms (Kent, 2009; Fragnière, 2016). When our peers are enforcing such social norms, a butterfly effect is created and we too feel responsible and have a greater sense of empowerment; our innate selfishness and isolation from the issue is now overridden by the new culture built around individual responsibility.

For example, biking not only reduces one’s carbon footprint, but it also sets an example for our communities and encourages our classmates and co-workers to join us (Fragnière, 2016). However, the eradication of a singular oil company may not stop car companies from making gas vehicles and the production of oil isn’t something that individuals can tangibly relate to. The human brain is less capable at comprehending larger entities and problems than we may believe. Räthzel and Uzzell’s research paper on environmental engagement focuses on individuals’ felt responsibility. Through their study, they concluded that subjects felt most responsible for local issues, even when, ironically, it is the level where they perceive the least problems manifesting (Kent, 2009). This goes to show the impact perception has towards one’s willingness to act and understanding human psychology is vital to reinvigorate effective social change. It’s important for the climate movement to insist that individual behaviour changes are not only righteous but required. The amplifying effect of green behaviour and action is the only way society can tackle climate change (Fragnière, 2016).

Tackling the climate crisis requires consistency and coherence of harmonized values on both the individual and societal levels (Fragnière, 2016). The responsibility of the climate crisis is greater on individuals because of our ability to override and enforce a socially conscious culture rather than expecting stubborn corporations to change voluntarily. We can utilize the power of moral codes and our leverage to create a ripple effect of more socially conscious mindsets and lifestyles. Justice requires collaboration and the sum of individual actions (Fragnière, 2016). We as individuals have the capacity to create a monumental domino effect where one action will affect our peers, our children, and our community. We may be selfish and want our foremost interests, but it’s for this very reason why we are more responsible for the climate crisis. We are the changemakers, we need to act now.


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