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Climate Change: Bridging the Theory-Action Gap

Lisa Kretz
Ethics and the Environment
Vol. 17, No. 2, Special Issue on Climate Change (Fall 2012), pp. 9-27
Published by: Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.2979/ethicsenviro.17.2.9
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/ethicsenviro.17.2.9
Page Count: 20
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Abstract

In Plato's Protagoras Socrates presents the problem of Akrasia (ἀκρασία), wherein one knows the right thing to do but fails to act accordingly. I am interested in identifying how to bridge this gap between theoretical commitments and behaviour. I discuss the problem in the context of the climate change crisis. Action lags, despite highly persuasive arguments that continuing the current trajectory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is irrational and immoral. Given this failing I recommend that practitioners of moral philosophy prioritize working on a swift resolution to the theory-action gap; namely the gap between espoused moral values and the actions that reflect such values. I contend that ethicists require a more robust account of how to facilitate morally justified behaviour and political action. One move in this direction pertains to motivation. An action-inspiring environmental philosophy makes necessary a grounding in knowledge of what morally motivates people to action. Thus, I argue that theory, practice and pedagogy must be empirically rooted in moral psychology regarding motivation and behaviour change.

NOTES

  1. 1
    Although I firmly believe that non-human entities are deserving of moral consideration I will limit my argument here primarily to one consistent with an anthropocentric position.
  2. 2
    See, for example, Phil Cafaro's discussion of gluttony, arrogance, greed and apathy as environmental vices (2005).
  3. 3
    For evidence of a disjunct between environmental knowledge/attitude and environmental behavior that reflects this knowledge see: Bickman 1972; Costanzo et al. 1986; Finger 1994; Geller 1981; Geller, Erickson and Buttram 1983; Hsu 2004; Hungerford and Volk 1990; Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002; McKenzie-Mohr 2000; and Sia, Hungerford, and Tomera 1985/86.
  4. 4
    This interpretation of the philosophical underpinnings of Leopold's work, where ethics are taken to evolve through extending concern to wider communities, is defended by J. Baird Callicott (2005).
  5. 5
    In support Goralnik and Nelson cite the work of D'Arcangelo (2000), Weiss (2000), Sylwester (1994), and McCuen & Shah (2007) (Goralnik and Nelson 2011, 188).
  6. 6
    This is one of many behaviors needing to be countered—and by no means am I prioritizing it above the behavior shifts needed at various collective levels. Further research pertaining to collective and individual behavior, and their synergistic interaction, is needed.

REFERENCES

  1. Abelsohn, Alan and Dennis Patrick O'Hara. 2011. Ethical Response to Climate Change. Ethics & the Environment 16(1): 25–50.
  2. Alber, Gotelind. 2011. “Gender, Cities and Climate Change.” Thematic report prepared for Cities and Climate Change Global Report on Human Settlements. Accessed May 11, 2012. http://www.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/GRHS2011/GRHS2011ThematicStudyGender.pdf
  3. Andreou, Chrisoula. 2007. “Morality and Psychology.” Philosophy Compass 2(1): 46–55.
  4. Attfield, Robin. 2009. “Mediated Responsibilities, Global Warming, and the Scope of Ethics.” Journal of Social Philosophy 40(2): 225–36.
  5. Benkler, Yochai. 2011. “The Unselfish Gene.” Harvard Business Review July-August: 77–85.
  6. Bickman, L. 1972. “Environmental Attitudes and Actions.” Journal of Social Psychology 87: 323–24.
  7. Booth, Carol. 2009. “A Motivational Turn for Environmental Ethics.” Ethics & The Environment 14(1): 53–78.
  8. Cafaro, Phil. 2005. “Gluttony, Arrogance, Greed, and Apathy: An Exploration of Environmental Vice.” In Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by Ronald Sandler and Philip Cafaro, 135–58. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  9. Callicott, J Baird. 2005. “Holistic Environmental Ethics and the Problem of Ecofascism.” In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, edited by Michael Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark, 116–29. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  10. Cohen S. Marc, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C. Reeve. 2005. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
  11. Comeau, Louise. 2008. “Effects of Framing on Ontarians' Perceived Competence to Act on Climate Change.” PhD diss., Royal Roads University.
  12. Costanzo, M., D. Archer, E. Aronson, T. Pettigrew. 1986. “Energy conservation behavior: The difficult path from information to action.” American Psychologist 41: 521–28.
  13. Cuomo, Chris. 2011. “Climate Change, Vulnerability and Responsibility.” Hypatia 26(4): 690–714.
  14. Fiala, Andrew. 2010. “Nero's Fiddle: On Hope, Despair and the Ecological Crisis.” Ethics & the Environment 15: 51–68.
  15. Finger, M. 1994. “From knowledge to action? Exploring the relationships between environmental experiences, learning, and behavior.” Journal of Social Issues 50(3): 141–60.
  16. Freire, Paulo. 2010. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International.
  17. Gaudiano, Edgar J. Gonzalez. 2010. “Education against Climate Change: Information and Technological Focus Are Not Enough.” In Climate Change and Philosophy: Transformational Possibilities, edited by Ruth Irwin, 131–42. New York: Continuum.
  18. Geller, E.S. 1981. “Evaluating energy conservation programs: Is verbal report enough?” Journal of Consumer Research 8: 331–35.
  19. Geller, E.S., J.B. Erickson, and B.A. Buttram. 1983. “Attempts to promote residential water conservation with educational, behavioral and engineering strategies.” Population and Environment Behavioral and Social Issues 6: 96–112.
  20. Gifford, R. and L. Comeau. 2011. “Message framing influences perceived climate change competence, engagement, and behavioral intentions.” Global Environmental Change 21: 1301–07.
  21. Glazebrook, Patricia. 2010. “Myths of Climate Change: Deckchairs and Development.” In Climate Change and Philosophy: Transformational Possibilities, edited by Ruth Irwin, 162–79. New York: Continuum.
  22. Glazebrook, Patricia. 2011. “Women and Climate Change: A Case-Study from Northeast Ghana.” Hypatia 26(4): 762–82.
  23. Goralnik, Lissy and Michael Nelson. 2011. “Forming a Philosophy of Environmental Action: Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and the Importance of Community.” The Journal of Environmental Education 42(3): 181–92.
  24. Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Robert Berner, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer, C. Zachos. 2008. Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” The Open Atmospheric Science Journal 2: 217–31. Accessed May 29, 2011. http://benthamscience.com/open/openaccess.php?toascj/articles/V002/217TOASCJ.htm
  25. Hsu, Shih-Jang. 2004. “The Effects of an Environmental Education Program on Responsible Environmental Behavior and Associated Environmental Literacy Variables in Taiwanese College Students.” The Journal of Environmental Education 35(2): 37–48.
  26. Hungerford, Harold and Trudi Volk. 1990. “Changing Learner Behavior Through Environmental Education.” Journal of Environmental Education 21(3): 8–21.
  27. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report Summary for Policy Makers. Accessed May 12, 2012. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf
  28. Jamieson, Dale. 1992. “Ethics, Public Policy, and Global Warming.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 17(2): 139–53.
  29. Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  30. Kant, Immanuel. 1993. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals: On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns. Translated by James W. Ellington. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
  31. Kollmuss, Anja and Julian Agyeman. 2002. “Mind the Gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior.” Environmental Education Research 8(3): 239–60.
  32. Kramer, Sarah Kate. 2010. “What Happened in 2010: Climate and Energy.” Accessed June 1, 2011. http://www.wnyc.org/articles/its-free-country/2010/dec/22/what-happened-2010-climate-and-energy/
  33. Leonard, Annie. 2012. “Story of Stuff: Referenced and Annotated Script.” Accessed May 12, 2012. http://www.storyofstuff.org/2011/03/14/story-of-stuff/
  34. McKenzie-Mohr, Douglas. 2000. “Promoting Sustainable Behaviour: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing.” Journal of Social Issues 56(3): 543–54.
  35. Oskamp, Stuart. 1995. “Applying Social Psychology to Avoid Ecological Disaster.” Journal of Social Issues 51(4): 217–39.
  36. Plato. 2005. “Protagoras.” In Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle, edited by S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C. Reeve, 154–80. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
  37. Plumwood, Val. 2006. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. New York: Routledge.
  38. Plumwood, Val. 2011. “Environmental Justice.” Institutional Issues Involving Ethics and Justice I. Accessed December 21 2011. www.eolss.net/Sample-Chapters/C14/E1-37-03-04.pdf
  39. Shiva, Vandana. 2005. “The Impoverishment of the Environment: Women and Children Last.” In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, edited by Michael Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark, 178–93. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  40. Sia, Archibald P., Harold R. Hungerford, and Audrey N. Tomera. 1985/86. “Selected Predictors of Responsible Environmental Behavior: An Analysis.” Journal of Environmental Education 17(2): 31–40.
  41. Singer, Peter. 2010. “One Atmosphere.” In Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, edited by Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue, 181–99. New York: Oxford University Press.
  42. Thompson, Allen. 2010. “Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 23(1):43–55.
  43. Warren, Karen. 2005. “The Power and Promise of Ecofeminism, Revisited.” In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, edited by Michael Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, John Clark, 252–79. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

NOTES

  1. 1
    Although I firmly believe that non-human entities are deserving of moral consideration I will limit my argument here primarily to one consistent with an anthropocentric position.
  2. 2
    See, for example, Phil Cafaro's discussion of gluttony, arrogance, greed and apathy as environmental vices (2005).
  3. 3
    For evidence of a disjunct between environmental knowledge/attitude and environmental behavior that reflects this knowledge see: Bickman 1972; Costanzo et al. 1986; Finger 1994; Geller 1981; Geller, Erickson and Buttram 1983; Hsu 2004; Hungerford and Volk 1990; Kollmuss and Agyeman 2002; McKenzie-Mohr 2000; and Sia, Hungerford, and Tomera 1985/86.
  4. 4
    This interpretation of the philosophical underpinnings of Leopold's work, where ethics are taken to evolve through extending concern to wider communities, is defended by J. Baird Callicott (2005).
  5. 5
    In support Goralnik and Nelson cite the work of D'Arcangelo (2000), Weiss (2000), Sylwester (1994), and McCuen & Shah (2007) (Goralnik and Nelson 2011, 188).
  6. 6
    This is one of many behaviors needing to be countered—and by no means am I prioritizing it above the behavior shifts needed at various collective levels. Further research pertaining to collective and individual behavior, and their synergistic interaction, is needed.

REFERENCES

  1. Abelsohn, Alan and Dennis Patrick O'Hara. 2011. Ethical Response to Climate Change. Ethics & the Environment 16(1): 25–50.
  2. Alber, Gotelind. 2011. “Gender, Cities and Climate Change.” Thematic report prepared for Cities and Climate Change Global Report on Human Settlements. Accessed May 11, 2012. http://www.unhabitat.org/downloads/docs/GRHS2011/GRHS2011ThematicStudyGender.pdf
  3. Andreou, Chrisoula. 2007. “Morality and Psychology.” Philosophy Compass 2(1): 46–55.
  4. Attfield, Robin. 2009. “Mediated Responsibilities, Global Warming, and the Scope of Ethics.” Journal of Social Philosophy 40(2): 225–36.
  5. Benkler, Yochai. 2011. “The Unselfish Gene.” Harvard Business Review July-August: 77–85.
  6. Bickman, L. 1972. “Environmental Attitudes and Actions.” Journal of Social Psychology 87: 323–24.
  7. Booth, Carol. 2009. “A Motivational Turn for Environmental Ethics.” Ethics & The Environment 14(1): 53–78.
  8. Cafaro, Phil. 2005. “Gluttony, Arrogance, Greed, and Apathy: An Exploration of Environmental Vice.” In Environmental Virtue Ethics, edited by Ronald Sandler and Philip Cafaro, 135–58. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  9. Callicott, J Baird. 2005. “Holistic Environmental Ethics and the Problem of Ecofascism.” In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, edited by Michael Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark, 116–29. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  10. Cohen S. Marc, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C. Reeve. 2005. Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
  11. Comeau, Louise. 2008. “Effects of Framing on Ontarians' Perceived Competence to Act on Climate Change.” PhD diss., Royal Roads University.
  12. Costanzo, M., D. Archer, E. Aronson, T. Pettigrew. 1986. “Energy conservation behavior: The difficult path from information to action.” American Psychologist 41: 521–28.
  13. Cuomo, Chris. 2011. “Climate Change, Vulnerability and Responsibility.” Hypatia 26(4): 690–714.
  14. Fiala, Andrew. 2010. “Nero's Fiddle: On Hope, Despair and the Ecological Crisis.” Ethics & the Environment 15: 51–68.
  15. Finger, M. 1994. “From knowledge to action? Exploring the relationships between environmental experiences, learning, and behavior.” Journal of Social Issues 50(3): 141–60.
  16. Freire, Paulo. 2010. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International.
  17. Gaudiano, Edgar J. Gonzalez. 2010. “Education against Climate Change: Information and Technological Focus Are Not Enough.” In Climate Change and Philosophy: Transformational Possibilities, edited by Ruth Irwin, 131–42. New York: Continuum.
  18. Geller, E.S. 1981. “Evaluating energy conservation programs: Is verbal report enough?” Journal of Consumer Research 8: 331–35.
  19. Geller, E.S., J.B. Erickson, and B.A. Buttram. 1983. “Attempts to promote residential water conservation with educational, behavioral and engineering strategies.” Population and Environment Behavioral and Social Issues 6: 96–112.
  20. Gifford, R. and L. Comeau. 2011. “Message framing influences perceived climate change competence, engagement, and behavioral intentions.” Global Environmental Change 21: 1301–07.
  21. Glazebrook, Patricia. 2010. “Myths of Climate Change: Deckchairs and Development.” In Climate Change and Philosophy: Transformational Possibilities, edited by Ruth Irwin, 162–79. New York: Continuum.
  22. Glazebrook, Patricia. 2011. “Women and Climate Change: A Case-Study from Northeast Ghana.” Hypatia 26(4): 762–82.
  23. Goralnik, Lissy and Michael Nelson. 2011. “Forming a Philosophy of Environmental Action: Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and the Importance of Community.” The Journal of Environmental Education 42(3): 181–92.
  24. Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Robert Berner, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer, C. Zachos. 2008. Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” The Open Atmospheric Science Journal 2: 217–31. Accessed May 29, 2011. http://benthamscience.com/open/openaccess.php?toascj/articles/V002/217TOASCJ.htm
  25. Hsu, Shih-Jang. 2004. “The Effects of an Environmental Education Program on Responsible Environmental Behavior and Associated Environmental Literacy Variables in Taiwanese College Students.” The Journal of Environmental Education 35(2): 37–48.
  26. Hungerford, Harold and Trudi Volk. 1990. “Changing Learner Behavior Through Environmental Education.” Journal of Environmental Education 21(3): 8–21.
  27. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report Summary for Policy Makers. Accessed May 12, 2012. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr_spm.pdf
  28. Jamieson, Dale. 1992. “Ethics, Public Policy, and Global Warming.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 17(2): 139–53.
  29. Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  30. Kant, Immanuel. 1993. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals: On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns. Translated by James W. Ellington. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
  31. Kollmuss, Anja and Julian Agyeman. 2002. “Mind the Gap: Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior.” Environmental Education Research 8(3): 239–60.
  32. Kramer, Sarah Kate. 2010. “What Happened in 2010: Climate and Energy.” Accessed June 1, 2011. http://www.wnyc.org/articles/its-free-country/2010/dec/22/what-happened-2010-climate-and-energy/
  33. Leonard, Annie. 2012. “Story of Stuff: Referenced and Annotated Script.” Accessed May 12, 2012. http://www.storyofstuff.org/2011/03/14/story-of-stuff/
  34. McKenzie-Mohr, Douglas. 2000. “Promoting Sustainable Behaviour: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing.” Journal of Social Issues 56(3): 543–54.
  35. Oskamp, Stuart. 1995. “Applying Social Psychology to Avoid Ecological Disaster.” Journal of Social Issues 51(4): 217–39.
  36. Plato. 2005. “Protagoras.” In Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle, edited by S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C. Reeve, 154–80. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
  37. Plumwood, Val. 2006. Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. New York: Routledge.
  38. Plumwood, Val. 2011. “Environmental Justice.” Institutional Issues Involving Ethics and Justice I. Accessed December 21 2011. www.eolss.net/Sample-Chapters/C14/E1-37-03-04.pdf
  39. Shiva, Vandana. 2005. “The Impoverishment of the Environment: Women and Children Last.” In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, edited by Michael Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, and John Clark, 178–93. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  40. Sia, Archibald P., Harold R. Hungerford, and Audrey N. Tomera. 1985/86. “Selected Predictors of Responsible Environmental Behavior: An Analysis.” Journal of Environmental Education 17(2): 31–40.
  41. Singer, Peter. 2010. “One Atmosphere.” In Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, edited by Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue, 181–99. New York: Oxford University Press.
  42. Thompson, Allen. 2010. “Radical Hope for Living Well in a Warmer World.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 23(1):43–55.
  43. Warren, Karen. 2005. “The Power and Promise of Ecofeminism, Revisited.” In Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology, edited by Michael Zimmerman, J. Baird Callicott, Karen Warren, Irene Klaver, John Clark, 252–79. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.