Bystander Effect

The phenomenon where people stand witness to a crime or accident but fail to respond because they expect others to respond and do what is necessary. There are numerous instances of the bystander effect every day.

Diffusion Of Responsibility

1) The belief and expectation that someone else will take a necessary action and so freeing you from the obligation.

2) A phenomenon where a necessary action is neglected because all those who can take the action expect others to do so.

3) One cause of passivity and inaction.

Example: An individual waits for a scientist to discover a new technology to address CO2 levels in the atmosphere while continuing to live a carbon-intensive lifestyle and continuing to support fossil-fuel dependency. Diffusion of responsibility is one of the contributing factors to passivity in the face of an imminent danger.


1) A condition among sapiens that results when the beliefs, fears and rewards behind the formation of the status quo are more emotionally salient than the warnings that the continuation of the status quo will result in harms to them or others.

2) A state of inaction accompanied by feelings of satisfaction, feelings which may require the dismissal or avoidance of information by the complacent individual.

3) An individual’s denial of the role they play in the degradation of ecosystems.

For example, many enjoy feelings of satisfaction about their lives despite the continued dumping of CO2 waste into the atmosphere. These pleasant feelings discourage individuals from taking action against this dumping of CO2 (which may eventually cause the collapse of oxygen production, the collapse of certain food chains and shrinking land mass).


1) A poor explanation for a phenomenon; a flawed description of cause and effect.

2) An explanation for a phenomenon that employs an element of magic to describe the event’s cause.

3) The use of magical thinking to predict an outcome.

One contemporary superstition is the belief that markets can cure any environmental problem. Another is the belief that human ingenuity can and will ultimately undo the destruction to ecosystems so that current societies and their behaviors can continue without interruption or change. These beliefs (which result from endowing markets and human ingenuity with magical properties) allow individuals to avoid questioning their current behaviors and what the cost of them is to ecosystems, the biosphere and the viability of the planet for human beings in the future. These beliefs can serve as a justification for inaction.

Plausible Deniability

1) The plausibility of our claim that we are not aware of the dangers posed to species and ecosystems.

2) The insistence that we are not complicit in a certain deed because, as we also claim, we do not personally see it happening or were not informed of its existence.

3) The practice of denying what we know about the costs of our behaviors because if we admitted these costs we would have to change them.

4) A tactic to avoid accountability and perpetuate the status quo.



Cocktail Party Environmentalism

The act of saying to others how important it is to protect the planet’s ecosystems because it sounds nice in conversation but failing to take action or commit to a specific action. This can occur when 1) the desire to identify ourselves as a concerned or thoughtful person is strong and/or 2) when we allow ourselves to believe that taking positive action would be difficult, feelings to which we are all susceptible.


Action-Potential Discrepancy

1) The discrepancy between a person’s ability to take positive action for the planet’s ecosystems (such as reduce use of home heating oil or cease purchasing fossil-fuel intensive food products) and the positive action this person actually takes.

2) Being able to defend and protect the planet’s ecosystems and not doing it.

We can all ask ourselves, How great is the distance between what we can do and what we really do? Those who wish to reduce this distance might start by making a list of possible behavioral changes and things to do, such as lowering the thermostat in the winter or building a passive house or refusing to purchase any food grown with the use of pesticides.