What should we do? / by nigel grey

We were celebrating my birthday over dinner with family and friends. Conversation, as it does, turned to politics… then climate change… and then the “should's.” What should you do if you care about the environment?

With a variety of political affiliations and moral beliefs at the table, the conversation escalated quickly. Why can talking about climate change be such an emotional topic? Why are we so quick to defend our decisions in light of the current ecological crisis? We could take these precious moments to brainstorm collective solutions!

Well, as Corner and Groves suggest in “Breaking the Climate Change Communication Deadlock,” discussions around climate change require us to ask, “How shall we live?” (p. 744). There are likely varying answers to this question depending on who you're talking with, which is why the issue is personal and political.  

How can we shift the discussion to “How shall we live together?” Scientific research shows us that our energy consumption (electricity, heat, and transportation) is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Image from the EPA

Image from the EPA


However, in the United States, we have not been able to collectively address this issue in any meaningful way. Fundamentally, the challenge of global warming requires that we make large-scale changes in our cultural values and lifestyle choices. How do we work toward such a shift? I don’t have the answers, but take Germany’s energy transition for example. As a nation, they have made a decision to do something different, together.

That night over dinner I found myself becoming increasingly defensive as the conversation continued, but this isn't productive. Can we shift as a country to more ecocentric values while still honoring our individual choices? Our unique stories are important, but what about consideration for the health of the planet, and ultimately the health of us all?


Corner, Adam, and Christopher Groves. "Breaking the Climate Change Communication Deadlock." Nature Climate Change, vol. 4, 2014, pp. 743-45.

Kunzig, Robert. "Germany Could be a Model for How We'll Get Power in the Future." National Geographic magazine, National Geographic Partners, Nov. 2015, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2015/11/germany-renewable-energy-revolution/.

"Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions." EPA, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.