Taking Responsibility for Climate Change

On human adaptation, sustainable consumption, and environmental governance 1

Authored by: Cindy Isenhour

Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138782877
eBook ISBN: 9781315768946
Adobe ISBN: 9781317667964


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Anthropology, with its deep historical and cross-cultural lens, reminds us that humans have adapted to a remarkable variety of conditions, both environmental and social. At the same time, a historical perspective also highlights the exceptional nature of the current moment, raising questions about adaptive capacity. The last several centuries are an anomaly, an outlier, which combine significant increases in population growth and environmental impact with intense social and economic interconnection at the global scale. While it is increasingly clear that global consumption and emissions patterns must be adapted in order to avoid resource depletion and dangerous climate change, the interdependent nature of the global economic system makes most governments hesitant to act unilaterally for fear of losing competitive advantage. A deeply popular alternative has emerged in the absence of adequate international and state-level governance – the idea that concerned individuals take responsibility for climate change. This chapter traces the development of the contemporary emphasis on consumer responsibility and explores its transformative potential relative to the urgency of adaptation in the age of climate change and high consumption.

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