Some people have decided that the science shows us that humanity can produce a maximum of 750kg per year each of carbon dioxyde, and that therefore it is morally dubious to to think that one has a right to produce more than that unless one has an argument as to why one has the right to produce more CO2 than average.
This is a deeply flawed argument. Consider the implication of reducing one’s CO2 consumption not neccesarily to the 750kg level, but simply by making sacrifices that are relatively easy to make. These mostly fall under the heading of “unneccesary consumerism”, which we tend to be critical of anyway. For example, we might choose to minimize our consumption of red meat. Let’s say, we reduce it to half – we eat half as much red meat as we did before. That doesn’t seem too difficult does it? And think of all the CO2 you’re saving. And while we’re at it, let’s try to reduce the number of flights we take, say by half again. This will be more difficult, but it is probably do-able for most of us. And concerning houses and suburbia, these are very unsustainable and CO2 heavy living arrangements, so let’s say we should be willing to spend 20% more or get 20% less house to live in a transit accessible area rather than the deep suburbs. And concerning cars, buying a new car means a new car has to be built, so let’s say that we maintain our cars better, take better care of them, and keep them 50% longer, so instead of buying a new car every 5 years, we buy a new one every 7 and a half years. This also seems pretty reasonable.
These are all sacrifices that we could all make, and we’d still live reasonable lives. In fact, we could even afford to spend more on our cars since we’re buying less of them. We could use that extra cash to buy a more expensive diesel or hybrid and save the planet that way. (* it is unclear to me whether diesels are in fact clean, since while they do get much better mileage they do so because they have more energy in their fuel, and this is reflected in the higher Co2 per liter of fuel burnt ratio for diesel).
However, whenever we are trying to make a moral claim, we are trying to make claims not only about we think we ought to do, but what others ought to do aswell. So, if these sacrifices are moral, this means that everyone ought try to make them, or make similar ones. Let’s consider what happens if the population at large was audacious enough to follow these simple recommendations.
1) The meat industry would collapse. Half demand means prices crash, farmers go out of business. Government bailouts?
2) The airline industry is crippled. They are barely profitable now, if demand were to drop by half they would have to reduce their flights by half while keeping in place most of the same infrastructure. Prices would skyrocket, which would reduce non-essential flying, which would inevitably reduce flying to much less than 50% of current levels. Many, many people out of work. Government bailouts?
3) Housing starts crash – 20% reduction, not just temporary, but permanent. This hurts the lumber industry which will compensate by lobbying the government to further decrease environmental regulation, and further reduce the requirement for logs to be milled close to where they are cut. This increases road subsidies because logging trucks do not pay anything close to the damage they do to roads (most don’t have any springs in their suspension). Also, housing starts are seen as an indicator for the whole economy – investors will get cold feet and foreign money will begin to leave. Recession?
4) Car industry destroyed. 50% reduction in cars sold means US “Big Three” go bankrupt – they rely almost entirely on domestic pickup sales (I’m considering pickup trucks to be included in the catagory “cars” as they are in Europe). Possible mitigation if people spend 50% more on their vehicles, but this does not seem like a decision which would become common.
So, now your friend who works at the airport doesn’t have a job. You’re friends father who works at the auto plant doesn’t have a job. Your friend who works construction is out of work. And some guy you don’t know who raises cattle in Alberta had to sell his farm and go back to school. (At least there’s a silver lining).
Still enjoying your moral superiority?