The paradox of inconsequence

Earth relay 5In Eco Kids: Raising children who care for the Earth, Dan Chiras (2005) speaks of the paradox of inconsequence.

As we go about our daily lives, many of us realise that there are serious environmental problems. However, for most of us, our role in creating the problems seems insignificant. We reason that we’re just one of around 300 million Americans or nearly 6.5 billion world citizens. Therefore, what we do is insignificant, or infinitesimal portion. “Why fret about our actions?” we ask. “It makes no difference.” Freed from responsibility by the inconsequence of our own action, we drive gas-guzzling cars, fail to recycle, leave lights on, let the hose run longer than we should, buy the latest electronics, and consume as if there were no end in sight. (p. 18)

The paradox is that many of our environmental problems are caused by millions of individual decisions and actions, each of which appears to be inconsequential. Taken together these individual decisions and actions lead to enormous problems such as climate change, over-consumption, and resource depletion.

Likewise, anything we do to combat climate change is not really going to make any difference, but it will only be through millions of smaller decisions and actions that we will be able to successfully combat climate change and create more sustainable communities.

Last weekend when we went down to Sydney for Sculpture by the Sea, we had to decide whether to drive or take public transport. Driving was going to take us a bit over 2 hours whereas public transport was going to take us around 3.5 hours (two trains and a bus). While the car was more convenient, we finally decided to leave the car at home (well actually at the train station). Did our decision really make any difference to the environment? Is the world better off because we chose public transport over the car? Avoiding the car can feel like we are making meaningless gestures. But of course, everybody did this, it would make a big difference.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to the exhibition by public transport was that I want our daughters to see public transport as a normal part of life, and do not automatically think of the car as being the only chose.

In a useful tip sheet on “Talking with children about the environment” the Australian Psychological Society encourages parents to help their children find something positive to do for the environment and to give them hope. Our daughters know that the world faces huge environmental challenges. They know that Cathy and I sometimes feel overwhelmed. But they also know that we are trying to make a difference and working towards social change. They see that every day we take the environment into consideration when we make decisions.

Hopefully this will help them address the paradox of inconsequence.

If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. Sculpture by the Sea – involving the kids
  2. Parenting for a better world
  3. What is Kids’ Vegies on the Verge?
  4. 10 ways to reduce your consumption
  5. Focusing more on parenting for the environment


Chiras, D. (2005). Eco Kids: Raising children who care for the Earth. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Environmental sustainability, Families & parenting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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