Climate change - whose responsibility? : from the personal to the global

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Whilst over twenty years of international negotiations have failed to generate a global agreement to prevent dangerous climate change, increasingly governments are calling on their citizens to take responsibility for climate change within their households and lifestyles. This individualisation of responsibility positions climate change action at the centre of personal lifestyle choice and individual behaviour. If we are to accept this, then in what ways are individuals equipped to enact their responsibility towards climate change? What forms of agency do actors require and in what ways are these individual agencies responsive to the constraints of our presently unsustainable society? In this thesis I undertake a transdisciplinary exploration of these questions drawing from five areas of theory (political; social; psychological; philosophical and cultural) that are concerned with the role of individual agency in climate change response. Each of these theoretical perspectives raises questions about the social, political and cultural contexts through which societal change is mediated. From them I argue that the individualisation of responsibility emphasises individual agency over structural responsibility (after Middlemiss 2010) and that existing theories fail to inform us why certain individuals are enabled to take action on climate change. Further, I identify three constraints to individual agency in relation to climate change mitigation. I propose that individual agents, in coming together in small groups express forms of collective agency which overcome these constraints. I tested these hypotheses through my empirical research. My multiple case study consisting of eight Australian Climate Action Groups (CAGs) reveals two essential divergences between members of CAGs and others in the community. Firstly, under the conditions of risk (Beck 1992) individual actors either: take action around climate change; or otherwise express denial and/or disempowerment. Secondly, those engaged in climate change as an issue either: take individual responsibility for climate change action, reflected in their personal and private sphere behaviour; or, having overcome the constraints to agency, take collective responsibility for climate change reflected through political action in the public sphere.
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