Abstract Arendt and Benjamin created important, and in many ways complementary, understandings of historical and political action that are intimately associated with the genesis of individual ethical responsibilities. This paper considers the ways in which their theoretical perspectives might be extended and linked to defend a model of environmental activism quite distinct from those presented in top-down discourses of environmental citizenship. These emerging discourses of citizenship tend to suggest that ethical responsibilities are the products of, and to be apportioned within, pre-determined forms of contemporary governance. The 'good (environmental) citizen' is, broadly speaking, obligated to comply in a largely 'apolitical' manner with behavioural norms that facilitate the continuance of the current social/economic system. But responsibilities are not reducible to obligations, and envisaging ethics or politics as a process of predicting and managing historical change fundamentally misunderstands the inherently unpredictable nature of all political action. It also diminishes precisely the kinds of engagement that might generate the sense of responsibility necessary to inform an alternative ecological politics.