The climate apology is a three-step process of self-reflection to encourage people to reduce their consumption and vote for effective mitigation measures based on their love and responsibility for the people in their lives.

It’s a self-help tool commensurate with the climate crisis

  • It personalises climate change by anchoring it firmly in our most important relationships.
  • It moves deliberately away from nudges, incentives and positive messaging and asks us to turn and face the science.
  • It confronts us with a demand to examine our own responsibility for the climate future of those we love.
  • It is intrinsically positive in its belief in the courage of individuals to face the climate crisis honestly, and in the influence and importance of individual action on the social, economic and political systems that drive carbon and methane emissions.

It’s a self-help tool that reflects the findings of climate psychology

Empathy, a strong sense of personal responsibility and altruism are common characteristics of environmentally friendly behaviours. The three steps of the climate apology foster these traits:

  • recognise and accept the harm facing my loved ones – and myself. Empathy can be directed towards our loved ones as well as turned internally in response to our fear and helplessness.
  • acknowledge our intrinsic role in the systems that drive climate change and that we’ve made mistakes. Take responsibility for our own actions as citizens and consumers.
  • act in the climate interests of those we love.

The how to

We all know how to apologise – more or less. As with any effective apology, the climate apology aims to change the behaviours that have caused harm. If the idea rings true for you, apologise to your loved ones in your own way – whether you verbalise it or internalise it, whether you direct your empathy to your loved ones or yourself is largely irrelevant. What is essential is that we finally shoulder our responsibility for our role in the climate-relevant systems and take the steps science has been telling us to take for the last 50 years.

Systems thinking

Rooted in systems thinking, it understands that our individual actions – as citizens and consumers, loved ones and friends, workers and professionals, managers and team members, social media users – are an essential piece of the highly complex puzzle of climate mitigation. Without our actions, we can’t solve the puzzle.

Rooted in internal family systems theory, it portrays the gap between our environmental intentions and our climate behaviours as an inner voice – our armchair environmentalist – that wants to keep us safe in the status quo of what we know. An important aspect of the climate apology is recognising our armchair environmentalist and the excuses it gives us not to act in the climate interests of our loved ones.

How the idea evolved

My teenagers have driven most of the climate-friendly steps we’ve taken over the last few years. In the process, I felt the need to apologise to them for not having done so years earlier. I deeply regret not listening to the science decades ago.

An apology is proportionate to the crisis facing those I love and am responsible for, even if I behaved unknowingly. It enables me to listen to and empathise with their grave concerns about the future. In doing so, it brings climate change directly into my home and crystalises the connection between it and my personal decisions around consumption and political engagement.

Most importantly, an effective apology requires me to make amends for the harm I have done to them – even if I never intended any harm. I have to take the steps necessary to help them manage their fears by finally adopting the pro-environmental behaviours required for climate mitigation and adaptation.

And so it is no longer ‘I’ but ‘we’, doing what is within our power to limit climate change. And the ‘we’ can grow as other family members and friends join in. An apology requires a change in behaviour; this means that we need to drastically reduce our consumption across the board, and that we vote for and demand that our governments enact the laws required for climate mitigation.

The symbol of the climate apology

The Triskelion is an ancient symbol that first appeared in Malta around 4,000 BC and is closely associated with the Celtic history of Ireland. As a symbol from European antiquity, it reminds us that global warming is largely the result of the growth-centred economic models and consumption patterns of the global north.

Its spirals represent the three phases of the climate apology: recognition, acknowledgement and change. It symbolises the elements of earth, water and air that we need to survive. It represents our intrinsic connection to others, now, in the past and the future.

Let’s act as individual consumers and citizens to ensure that we can pass down this symbol to our kids and grand-kids as it has been passed down to us.