Climate Change

The Effect of Individual Behavior on Climate Change

June 24, 2012

An individual’s ability to influence the course of climate change was a central question in an Environment Forum session on moving towards a carbon-free future. Before Boing Boing Science Editor Maggie Koerth-Bakker began researching her book Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us, she “wanted to have that empowering sense that there’s something you can go out and do, but unfortunately, I came away the impression that what you do doesn’t matter unless your personal behavior can influence on a larger scale.”

The US military is one institution attempting such scale. Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs at the Department of Defense, stressed the importance of integrating a community’s needs with attempts to reduce their carbon footprint. “When it comes to energy, in our context, the personal behavior of our men and women in uniform matters a great deal,” she said. “But they are only going to do what we need them to do with the equipment and training and education they need to do their job.”

New York City residents have been given this infrastructure, New Yorker staff writer David Owen said, and as such become the nation’s lowest-per-capita consumer of energy. “People in dense cities live in small spaces, aren’t as reliant on cars, and are more likely to use walking as a primary mode of transportation,” he said. “Density is critical because it is a systemic approach, and without a systemic approach, all the things we like to think of as solutions don’t work.” 

Ultimately, Koerth-Bakker agreed. “If you can get some of those personal choices to be something that other people are aware of, and your choice impacts their choice, all of your choices together start impacting how we set up these structures.”