Document Type


Publication Date



The genesis for this essay is the recognition that individual behavior is contributing in a significant way to the remaining environmental problems we have. For a variety of reasons, ranging from the difficulty of trying to identify and then regulate all of these individual sources to the political backlash that might result if such regulation was tried, efforts to control that behavior have either failed or not been tried. The phenomenon of individuals as irresponsible environmental actors seems counter-intuitive given the durability of the environmental protection norm and polls that consistently show that people contribute to environmental causes, are willing to pay more to protect environmental resources, and consider protecting the environment among their highest priorities. This conflict between thought and deed and its serious effect, if not resolved, is the puzzle that has sent me on this quest.

This essay is the author's third attempt at unraveling the problem of irresponsible individual environmental behavior and at suggesting possible ways to reform how people behave toward the environment. The first article proposed expanding the abstract environmental protection norm to include individual environmental responsibility as the approach most likely to overcome barriers to behavioral change. The article recommended enlisting environmental groups as the most effective "norm entrepreneurs" to achieve widespread change in personal environmental conduct. In that piece, she concluded that the best way to change norms and thus change behavior was through education, but additional measures might be necessary.

The second article expanded on the earlier discussion of norms and their influence on behavior, and why changing norms, though difficult, is more effective than other means of inciting behavioral change. However, given the difficulty inherent in creating or changing norms, the second article also identified and evaluated other norm and behavior-changing tactics, such as shaming, public education, and market-based incentives, which might supplement norms as a means of changing behavior. The article concluded that no one approach alone is sufficient to secure both norm and behavior change, but a combination of any or all of them when properly tailored to the source and nature of the harm and when accompanied by public education can lead to both norm and behavioral changes.

Thus, both articles concluded that public education plays a critical role in any effort to alter public behavior through changing norms. This essay examines how republican theory supports that conclusion and provides the theoretical framework within which norm change can occur.

All three pieces start with the premise that the current crisis over global climate change has created the circumstances in which norm change can occur--circumstances that collectively have created what the author calls a second environmental republican moment. This second republican moment, like the first one in the 1970s, might result in widespread public support for a variety of environmentally protective legislative and regulatory initiatives and offers a rare, albeit brief, opportunity in which to educate the public about its contribution to environmental harm. This essay develops the republican aspect of that thought further, demonstrating how the overlapping strands of republican thought and norm development support the creation of a new norm of personal environmental responsibility. The essay also shows how, during republican moments, the public is more amenable to being educated about civic matters, including their responsibilities as environmental citizens. It is particularly during republican moments that people acquire information that may influence their "expressed preferences," lending a sense of urgency to the present moment we find ourselves in.

This essay begins by discussing the concept of an environmental republican moment, and why the public's response to the crisis of global climate change appears to be such a moment. The essay then identifies the key features of republican theory and shows how those features replicate many of the elements necessary for norm and behavioral change. The essay concludes by showing how republicanism--with its emphasis on public education, civic involvement, and achieving the common good through civic virtue--provides a useful construct for thinking about how to make people behave in more environmentally responsible ways.

Publication Citation

23 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 515-536 (2009)