Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Carbon, not conservation

The flak over high power consumption at Al Gore's Tennessee mansion illustrates a problem with the general public's understanding of global warming... and it might also show how to make progress. I think the trouble is that three similar but distinct messages are blurred in the public's mind.

In this age of bling, McMansions, conspicuous consumption, and disposable everything, there is also a strong countervailing ideal of frugality. It is an old New England ethic, part of America's legacy from the puritans. For the sake of our souls, responsible community leaders exhort us to change our lifestyle. Waste not, want not.

Separately, there is an strong environmental movement that urges limited human impact on the environment. This means less strip-mining of resources, less clear-cutting of timber, less pollution in the air, and less waste in the garbage dumps. For the sake of our environment, responsible community leaders exhort us to change our lifestyle. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Separate from both of these is the movement to fight global warming. A scientific consensus has emerged that human activities are heating up the planet, with disastrous consequences to come. For this reason, responsible scientists urge us to reduce carbon emissions. But it's not about "living right" or protecting wildlife refuges: it's about saving the planet from global climate change. It is easy--but wrong--to conflate the effort to fight global warming with the environmental/ethical exhortations to conserve.

Gore's mansion is a case in point. From the point of view of global climate policy, Gore has made the right choice. By investing in carbon offsets and green energy sources, Gore has found a better way to reduce his personal contribution to the world's carbon emissions than simple conservation. It's economics 101: trading carbon credits allows a society to cut and offset emissions with the least cost to the economy.

I think a lot of people get turned off by all the judgment and smugness that come along with the environmental/ethical conservation crusade. If we want people across the political spectrum to join the fight against global warming, we need to help them understand that it's not about giving up the SUV, eating only organic foods, or flushing only once a day: it's about finding the best way for our economy to reduce carbon emissions. There are many ways cut carbon without conservation like investing in clean fuels, adding better emissions controls on factories, and even planting new forests. Let's stay on message.


Anonymous said...

It's also such an easy mark. If there's anything conservative tv and radio hosts can do well, they're great for getting their viewers all riled up. And if you're sharing a bathroom with five relatives and driving an old car to a job without health benefits, some former president with a big house and a passion for climate change sure looks like the oft-reviled limousine liberal.

I find it really interesting that some fundamentalists have decided that not believing in global warming is a tenet of faith. The second-scariest moment in the movie "Jesus Camp" is when one of the earnest young tweens tells the director that global warming is a total lie. [The scariest moment is how poorly the same kid can read from a book - the movie is perhaps the best argument against homeschooling I've seen yet.]

Sure, if you think the end of the world's just around the corner, then maybe you aren't so interested in what happens to the world. But I'd like to think that the Great Hall Monitor In The Sky will be interested in what we did to keep the oceans from coming to a rolling boil.

-Seventh Sister

Dr. Strangelove said...

There will be winners and losers in the economics of stopping global warming. If our convoluted tax code is any indication, the U.S. will have a hard time making any big changes under such conditions. Can we adjust our economy to prevent global warming? Surely that is one of the great moral questions of the age.