The Ecological Citizen

A free-to-access publication confronting human supremacy in defence of the Earth


Long article

Against enlightened inaction: Edification from Thoreau

Luke Philip Plotica

The Ecological Citizen Vol 2 No 2 2019: 163–71

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First published: 1 January 2019  |  Permanent URL  |  Download citation in RIS format


This essay describes and critiques a phenomenon it terms 'enlightened inaction'. Despite abundant information regarding the human causes and ultimate consequences of ecological devastation, many individuals act as if they were ignorant of these facts. This essay argues that knowledge puts individuals on notice of their ethical responsibilities and binds them more closely to ecological obligations. To advance this claim, and to explore how individuals might act upon these obligations in their own lives, the essay turns to the ethical and ecological thought of Henry David Thoreau (1817–62). Thoreau's practices of self-accounting, deliberate living and simplicity supply individual tactics that might complement, rather than undermine, institutional thinking and collective action on ecological issues. In light of Thoreau's example, the essay also suggests that while all individuals have basic obligations in respect of their awareness of the ecological effects of their actions and ways of life, academics have special obligations in their capacity as public intellectuals.



Ecological ethics, Ecological living