Stoicism On Climate Change

climate cold road landscape
Photo by Markus Spiske on




Many affiliated with the environmental movement have an apocalyptic view about climate change. It mirrors the moral panic exhibited by many “dooms-day-preppers” proclaiming holy judgment will be on the horizon. I am far from a scientist, do not intend on arguing about the empirical validity of global warming. However, realistically what impact can an individual have on to reverse or impede the effects of global warming. When confronted with the magnitude of the problem it is magical thinking to believe that one person can make a profound difference in the outcome. To some extent, you have to be delusional and at a grandiose scale to believe that purchasing an electric car will save the world.  It is analogous to believing that your vote mathematically would be the deciding vote in the presidential election. That would be highly improbable. Then again, I am not a statistician. What do I know?


The facts of reality are that our individual actions will only have a miniscule impact. The question becomes how do we cope with the hard facts of reality? Especially, if it is a topic we are passionate about or even profoundly concerned about. Here is where we would applaud the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism for providing some sage advice. Which generally entails focusing on what we have control of and not fixating on what we do not. A significant oversimplification of stoic thought, but a sufficient synopsis for our purposes.  Treating your individual action as the deciding factor in a large decision that has many complex moving parts is a recipe for needless stress. The anti-gun control pamphlet is merely a drop in the bucket. There are plenty of other purveyors proliferation similar material. This goes down the line for just about another divisive topic through American public policy.  The odds of holding a Bernie Sanders sign for three hours on a Saturday will have any genuine impact at the poles is slim. Therefore, there is no reason to lose any sleep over it. If you are really that crazy about the guy vote for him in the Presidential election. Then again don’t put too much weight your vote.


I am not trying to breed apathy here, but rather I am trying to realign our exceptions to what we actual have control over. This slightly touches upon Jordan Peterson’s mantra of “Clean your room“. Not that I am trying to promote Dr. Peterson or his ideas, but it does parallel a mentality similar to the stoics. After reading the article in Philosophy Now, A Stoic Response to The Climate Change Crisis I have become inspired to expound upon this topic. All too often people agonize over lofty ideals that they cannot achieve or problems that are out of their reach.  I witnessed a lot of this after the 2016 Presidential election.  There was the mass proliferation of contingencies plans aimed to remove Donald Trump from office.  I am not making a value judgement about the residing President of the United States.  Rather I am illustrating how people burden themselves with circumstances that are out of their control.


The previously referenced article details the reactions of various stoic philosophers to the current issue of global warming.  My favorite speculated response was that of Marcus Aurelius. Then again, I am probably biased. My favorite stoic philosopher happens to be Marcus Aurelius. Nevertheless it is still supremely wise advice:


The lesson from Marcus Aurelius here, then, is twofold: stop wasting mental energy being shocked or offended by human inaction on climate change. Do not assume that humanity will take upon itself timely and wise actions, or that some mysterious force will protect us from the results of our own behaviour, or soften the horrific blows when they come. Shock and incredulity are not worthy of anyone who studies history or the natural world. Don’t be like a traveler unfamiliar with how things go here. It’s time for us to face what is happening, and to prepare. Facing reality is the first step in figuring out how to handle it well. (Gindin, 2020, P.15) [1].


So essentially, overcome being offended by peoples disregard for the environment. Do what is within your power to prepare for the of  externalities of climate change, but do not expect others to follow suit. By all means, recycle, do your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, etc.  Understand that you are not going to save the world doing your part. I would add don’t proselytize the virtues of environmentalism. Marcus Aurelius would tell us to expect others to change their ways because we handed them a pamphlet is unrealistic and naive. Making it even anything a waste of time. When we could have been doing that actually would be productive for the environment. Selling environmentalism with the same tactics of a dooms-day cult will not win you any converts. However, you will get a lot of perplexed expressions from disinterested shoppers at the local mall.