And nowhere is moralization more of a hazard than in our greatest global challenge. The threat of human-induced climate change has become the occasion for a moralistic revival meeting. In many discussions, the cause of climate change is overindulgence (too many S.U.V.’s) and defilement (sullying the atmosphere), and the solution is temperance (conservation) and expiation (buying carbon offset coupons). Yet the experts agree that these numbers don’t add up: even if every last American became conscientious about his or her carbon emissions, the effects on climate change would be trifling, if for no other reason than that two billion Indians and Chinese are unlikely to copy our born-again abstemiousness. Though voluntary conservation may be one wedge in an effective carbon-reduction pie, the other wedges will have to be morally boring, like a carbon tax and new energy technologies, or even taboo, like nuclear power and deliberate manipulation of the ocean and atmosphere. Our habit of moralizing problems, merging them with intuitions of purity and contamination, and resting content when we feel the right feelings, can get in the way of doing the right thing.
I disagree that the only moral response is individual action. Because political action could also be a moral response. I disagree that juxtaposing the value of individual action with the values of collective and regulatory action is relevant--we need them all. And I disagree with rejecting individual action because the Indians and Chinese are "unlikely to copy us." That is like not saving a child because you're not sure your neighbor would.
What are your thoughts on this passage? I promise this my last "read and discuss" post for a while. Yesterday I was on the train to Indianapolis and today I was giving a talk. Tomorrow I will have time to write again.
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