I’m not sure if he meant this post as a response to my post, or as a response to the ongoing discussion on carbon ethics – but either way, it really does not does not “bring about any clarity to the many discussions we’ve had here about carbon ethics”. It really just repeats what we already know – action must begin collectively and immediately - and from there re-makes the assumption that it is desirable that, in full knowledge that collective action will not begin immediately, that still “we individually [should] want to mirror what the world as a whole needs to do”.
I’ll repeat the argument I’ve made before, and again, I’ll give reasons for my position. (While it makes me sound like a liberal, giving reasons for arguments is a central requirement to dialogue. Without reason-giving, it is not really possible to hold others responsible for what they’ve said.) I do not think it is not desirable that we individually, as individuals, want to mirror what the world needs to do. In fact, I think the notion that we should do as individuals what the world as a whole should do while the world isn’t doing it is deeply misguided. The fact the world isn’t doing it means the actual cuts needed are deeper and sharper – so what justifies someone personally cutting their carbon more slowly when the world’s inaction produces a requirement for even sharper cuts?
In fact, I would not advocate any carbon ethics that remains on the level of individually setting an example where that example is “what is required of everyone”, rather than attempting to demonstrate what is desirable about acting socially, together as a society, to mitigate climate change. However, I would not recommend amending your position to give a different curve of carbon cut-back because cutting back on carbon emissions is largely not something we can do as individuals – it requires investment on the societal level.
Taking into account the importance of the societal, my claim is that it is desirable that we “mirror what the world needs to do” – together. The emphasis needs to be on the “we”, not on the “as individuals”. Rather than acting “individually” – any action to be effective must foster social movements, activism, political pressure, and so on. I don’t think it is particularly virtuous to live a “moral” (pious), personally low carbon life – the relevant virtue here is in spurring and organizing the social transformation we so desperately need if we want our children not to live in a much more violent and hostile place than we. Of course, I do not mean to construct a false opposition between personal and social action. Rather, what I mean to show is that a personal action can either be individualizing or fostering of a social movement.
I think the bus/train decision is an example of where these values diverge in an individual’s choice. I don’t mean to criticize your decision – just some of the logic you stated with regards to the issue. There are lots of reasons to take the bus that are good reasons. However, specifically looking at a comment responding to my post on high speed, overnight, and trans continental rail travel you wrote:
“Arguably, there is little point in getting people onto cross-country trains, until they have a significant climate advantage over air travel.”
I think this is misguided. The real effects of our actions are not only their immediate release of carbon, but also the extent to which they contribute to the societal will to spend to mitigate, to build a world appropriate for a carbon neutral future. Whether you like it or not, taking the bus cross country appears to others as embracing a low-carbon asceticism. In my experience, people seem deeply hostile to this.
We could debate whether it’s good or it’s bad that there is a hostility to asceticism – but the fact is there is a deep and longstanding hostility to it, and having one’s actions spur social movement building means being sensitive to which values one can shift and which ones one cannot shift. There is room for movement, for example, on the value of working 40 hours a week, or 46 to 50 weeks a year – look at the idealization of German Vacation time in Canada (especially our immediate experience of it in the West in the form of RV tourism), and also the strength of the work-less party with their extremely sensible policies.
Looking at the long term ramifications of social choice, I come to the conclusion that the right value to shift towards with respect to travel is slow travel – accessible, utilitarian and comfortable. We should pressure Via to shift away from tourism service towards useful travel service for all Canadians, which means, for transcontinental service, daily departures and restoring the Montreal – Ottawa – Sudbury connection.
Slow travel also endorses more travel by bicycle. There is no reason why trips of less than 100km, when time is not the primary issue, can not be made increasingly by bicycle. What is required to open this up to more of the population is investment in bicycle routes, even dedicated tracks. Despite my love of road bikes, maybe the right value here is unpaved maintained trails, since they can simply be grated when a paved trail would need resurfacing.
Slow travel requires more time than plane travel – so this goes hand in hand with becoming more mindful, more aware, more intentional of our actions. Milan is right that we need to ditch flagrantly needless trips – and switching from air to rail means it is no longer possible to have that quick weekend in Paris, or a day trip to New York for a business meeting. But it also means increasing the value of a visit we do choose to make – since it will not be as quick and easy to move from place to place, we will value those visits we do make that much more greatly.