Don’t just stand there regarding climate change. Do something!

May 7, 2008 | By | 1 Reply More

That’s the message of Audrey Schulman, writing in Orion Magazine. Her article is entitled, “How to be a Climate Hero.”

Schulman describes psychology experiments where the subject is surrounded by stooges, everyone in the room doing a mundane task.  Eventually, something untoward happens. For instance, smoke starts pouring out of the vents, indicating a dangerous fire. If there are stooges present and they do nothing, the subject will usually do nothing.

It’s been repeated with many variations on the type of emergency: staged robberies, lost wallets, people in hallways crying for help, etc. Every time, if there was more than one person witnessing the event, all of them were almost certain to do nothing.

What does this lesson about the Bystander Effect have to do with climate change? Most of us are sitting around doing nothing at all, because most of us are sitting around doing nothing at all.

Right now everyone understands that something truly horrible is happening to the planet’s climate. The heat waves and forest fires, the floods and droughts. But there are 6 billion of us now—quite the Bystander Effect. So we stay in our seats filling out forms, trying to ignore the smoke swirling thicker around us. We bustle about our normal lives, assuming it can’t be as bad as it seems because surely, then, everyone would be marching in the street about it.

Here’s an important lesson you can learn from Schulman’s post. Learning about the Bystander Effect “innoculates” you against its destructive effect. When you are made aware of the Bystander Effect, you don’t have to do nothing just because most everyone else is doing nothing. You can jump into gear, reducing your carbon footprint and making lots of noise for change. Write those letters to the editor and write to your representatives. Discuss these issues with even a few friends; they will then be comfortable talking with their friends. We don’t have to be a country that still sells SUV’s and incandescent bulbs, a country that is still carving out exurbs and failing to enact a responsible national energy policy.

The lesson Schulman is teaching is a lesson we can all use every day in a massively dysfunctional society. It’s time to speak up, even if no one else is speaking up. Everyone else needs you to act first.

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Category: global warming, Good and Evil, law and order, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Mary says:

    I do appreciate this post so much – it is frightening characteristic of us in this day and age that we don't or hesitate to take action. I personally don't think it is human nature but the only the "nature" that we become because we are taught that to dumb ourselves is the best recourse for coping. And to be numbed by the system of education which would rather have kids drugged and in a stupor that be vibrant and learning at their own rate. We are taught not to feel or react or stand up for ourselves by some cultural phenomenon that we end to eradicate – it we could only find the source…we are being deprived of our humanity by being taught we are only stimulus response animals without self determinism. I don't think it is really us but its effects are real if we look around.

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