A Tuesday Rant About … Something

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After writing a post last week about personal sacrifice and climate change, I received a deluge of lectures explaining that personal action to address climate change was pointless. It would be a drop in the ocean. Only collective action at a government level could possibly make a noticeable dent in carbon emissions.

I’m glad we’ve got that straight. But today Eric Levitz quotes from my piece and takes things a step further:

This is the sort of reasoning one expects from libertarian undergrads, not progressive pundits. [Long paragraph about why personal sacrifice is pointless.] To his credit, Drum eventually transitions to a more cogent argument, suggesting that neither he nor his readers would “vote for anyone who we thought might force us to live like this” (i.e., without air conditioning or air travel).

That’s it. I’m tired of everyone reading that post and deliberately ignoring what it actually said. Levitz quotes a few sentences of mine and then says I “eventually” transition to a more cogent argument. But that cogent argument is the very next sentence. It is the entire point of the post. Here it is:

With current technology, this is what it would take from all of us to make a serious dent in climate change. And you’re not doing it. Neither am I. Nor, if we’re being honest, would we vote for anyone who we thought might force us to live like this. And that’s despite the fact that people like us are the most likely to support serious carbon reduction. As we all know, there are plenty of others who won’t even go so far as to support modestly higher CAFE standards or decommissioning of coal plants.

….This should be a lesson to all of us: if we ourselves, who believe passionately that climate change is an existential threat, aren’t willing to make serious sacrifices to stop it, we should step back and ask why. Is it solely because it would be unfair for some of us to sacrifice like this when others aren’t? That’s certainly a handy excuse. Would we then be willing to support laws that forced everyone to live like this? I very much doubt it.

It’s obvious—or should be—that I understand the difference between individual and shared sacrifice. I also understand why individual sacrifice seems unfair. I address that explicitly by asking if we liberals would even be willing to support shared sacrifice on the scale required to address climate change. I don’t think most of us would be.

If you think I’m wrong about that, fine. Make your case. But don’t ignore the argument just because it’s easier to pretend I made a different one.

POSTSCRIPT: And since several days have gone by since that first post, you should probably skip it and instead address my more recent posts about climate change policy here and here. You can disagree with those too! But if you do, be sure to explain why no country in the entire world, after at least 20 years in which the danger of climate change has been plain to policymakers everywhere, has agreed to even the slightest genuine shared sacrifice. And then, taking into account the entire historical record of the human race, please explain why that’s going to change.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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