‘Resistance’ versus ‘abstinence’ in responding to climate change

June 11, 2009

in Economics, Law, Politics, The environment

During the course of our extended discussion on the ethics of travel, given climate change, the idea came up that living in a high-carbon society has similar ethical characteristics to living under an unjust regime. For instance, an aggressive totalitarian state that attacks its neighbours. In both cases, people are born into the society without any say in its character. In both cases, people can become aware of the harm their society is causing to others. In both cases, individuals face the question of how to respond to the injustice.

Right now, our society is engaged in harming future generations for our own personal and economic self-interest. We are doing so by emitting greenhouse gases that profoundly threaten the quality of life of future generations. In a way, it is as though we are mining the health, welfare, and prosperity of those who will come after us, so that we can continue to live in the way to which people have become accustomed.

While living in such a society probably creates moral obligations to assist those who are being harmed, and who will be harmed in the future, it does seem like the primary moral impetus is that of resistance. Given that our society operates in a fundamentally unjust way, those of us who have come to understand this have an obligation to change the nature of that society. Obviously, there are a wide variety of possible approaches – everything from working to reduce your personal impact to working to reform government from within to armed insurrection. Similarly, there are a wide variety of personal costs that may be borne by those who choose to act. They might sacrifice more lucrative careers for ones which offer more scope for promoting societal change. They might give up luxuries that they and others once took for granted. They may bear even more acute costs, if they choose to resist in less socially acceptable ways. For instance, those who climb buildings to deploy banners – or who choose to protest peacefully in places where governments have forbidden it – could find themselves facing legal consequences.

Rather than seeing the problem of responding to climate change as an exercise in personal harm reduction, it may make more sense to think about it as an exercise in driving societal reform, through whatever means seem to be effective and ethically acceptable.

Is the above a sensible framework for thinking about climate change? Is it preferable to an ethic that calls upon us primarily to reduce our own emissions? In what ways are the ethical obligations that arise from a ‘resistance’ view different from those that arise from an ‘abstinence’ perspective?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. June 12, 2009 at 10:18 am

Is the above a sensible framework for thinking about climate change? Is it preferable to an ethic that calls upon us primarily to reduce our own emissions?

Quite possibly yes, I think. It would certainly position you to get more done on the issue. At this point, political agitation has the potential to make a far greater impact than personal life choices.

In what ways are the ethical obligations that arise from a ‘resistance’ view different from those that arise from an ‘abstinence’ perspective?

You get to spend your time thinking about ways to get a price on carbon in place, and support for renewables, instead of obsessing about how insulated your walls are and how you travel?

Tristan June 12, 2009 at 11:34 am

I think it’s a sensible framework. It’s reasonable to point out, also, that it doesn’t somehow eliminate the “abstinence” approach, insofar as the purpose of abstinence was itself a form of resistance.

It’s like veganism for someone who actually believes that animal slaughter is the holocaust – at the same time admitting that one won’t tacitly approve of the activity, without going to what we would consider appropriate moral lengths to stop something like the holocaust. However, like veganism as such a response, it seems woefully inadaquate – barely a tacit refusal to co-operate given that co-operating in society in general means de facto tacitly approving of social norms.

So, I think analogously to the way that not eating animal products is an indadaquate response to the meat industry by someone who literally believes it to be on the same moral level as the systematic destruction of human beings, not emitting carbon is inadequate as a response to climate change. This always smacks of “Al Gore flies around the world on jets” logic. Not that it might not be effective for Al Gore to travel by pack mule – but it would be effective for its symbolic value, not because of any desire to have clean hands (on the rich can have clean hands).

Reducing one’s own carbon footprint can never be the end purpose of reducing one’s own carbon footprint – the end needs to be reducing the carbon footprint. Or rather, avoiding run-away climate change.

Anonymous June 12, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Why ‘resistance’ and not ‘reform?’

The latter has much less of a negative feeling associated.

Tristan June 12, 2009 at 1:54 pm

To whom does “resistance” have a negative feeling associated? Mr. Status Quo? Name one serious “reform” in history which did not involve people embracing the need for resistance against the existing state of affairs?

“Not resistance, reform”= morality lite.

Milan June 12, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I think reform is a subset of resistance. While it may be adequate to overcome climate change through incremental political and economic change, it seems necessary to consider the possibility that solving the problem will require more than that.

Milan June 12, 2009 at 4:41 pm

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Edmonton Sun, in response to this article:

“Scott Hennig, a spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, apparently believes that a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gasses is “basically just a huge welfare program. You take from the rich and give to the poor” (“Cap and trade to cost jobs?” 12 June 2009). This perspective suggests that he isn’t thinking the matter through very well. When we emit greenhouse gasses, we cause harm to others while undertaking actions that benefit us personally. We drive cars, take flights, and heat houses in ways that will cause suffering and death in other parts of the world, and for future generations. The purpose of a cap-and-trade system is to take those external costs, which we do not bear directly, and force us to ‘internalize’ them into our own decision-making. Rather than constituting theft, such a system mitigates the theft that was ongoing before it existed.”

Milan June 12, 2009 at 4:46 pm

I also sent Mr. Hennig a slightly longer version directly:

“In an article in the Edmonton Sun, you are quoted as describing a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gasses as ““basically just a huge welfare program. You take from the rich and give to the poor.” I think this is an invalid perspective. When we emit greenhouse gasses, we cause harm to others while undertaking actions that benefit us personally. We drive cars, take flights, and heat houses in ways that will cause suffering and death in other parts of the world, and for future generations. The purpose of a cap-and-trade system is to take those external costs, which we do not bear directly, and force us to ‘internalize’ them into our own decision-making. Rather than constituting theft, such a system mitigates the theft that was ongoing before it existed.

The idea that market externalities exist and should be corrected through government policy is accepted by virtually all economists, and Sir Nicholas Stern has been correct to describe climate change as the greatest market failure the world has ever seen. Using economic instruments to help correct that failure is therefore both prudent and ethical, definitely not a form of ‘theft.’”

oleh June 13, 2009 at 12:18 am

If the goal is societal change, using various forms to achieve it can be tried. Abstinence may not be the most effective. The suffragette movement from which the vote was extended to women required male supporters of woman’s suffrage to actively lobby and vote for woman’s suffrage. Abstinence which would lead to potential boycotts of voting would probably have led to continuation of the status quo.

. June 15, 2009 at 2:06 pm

How to get involved in the fight against climate change

Wondering what you can do? These groups have climate campaigns and info galore—check out their sites, connect with them on social networks, and get involved!

. June 18, 2009 at 11:20 pm

“It appears to me that much of the rigid opposition to environmental concerns in the First World nowadays involves values acquired early in life and never again reexamined: ‘the maintenance intact by rulers and policy-makers of the ideas they started with,’ to quote Barbara Tuchman.

It is painfully difficult to decide whether to abandon some of one’s core values when they seem to be becoming incompatible with survival. At what point do we as individuals prefer to die than to compromise and live? Millions of people in modern times have indeed faced the decision whether, to save their own life, they would be willing to betray friends of relatives, acquiesce in a vile dictatorship, live as virtual slaves, or flee their country. Nations and societies sometimes have to make similar decisions collectively.

All such decisions involve gambles, because one often can’t be certain that clinging to core values will be fatal, or (conversely) that abandoning them will ensure survival…

Perhaps a crux of success or failure as a society is to know which core values to hold on to, and which ones to discard and replace with new values, when times change.”

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. p. 433 (paperback)

Milan June 19, 2009 at 4:30 pm

It seems that one vital task is to convince people of the unjustice of the current situation. To do that, three things must be achieved:

1) People must realize the physical characteristics and implications of climate change

2) People must grasp the ethical issues that result, such as how lifestyle choices in major industrial states threaten the future viability of marginal agricultural areas

3) People must realize that there are alternatives to our current course of action, where we could reduce the harm we are causing without imposing impossible burdens on ourselves (though the burdens may be much heavier than we would like).

. June 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm

“In the context of resource depletion and sustainability such a view can only mean that the marketplace will determine all. No government intervention can take place save to enhance the interests of particular groups at the expense of others. That is the sole meaning of “government program.” In Buchanan’s view it cannot be construed otherwise.

The problem for those who seek widespread sustainability preparations is that this view has come to be widely accepted by the public and even by politicians. And, its corollary–that humans are all independent information processors that aim to maximize their personal gains at all times–has also achieved a broad purchase on the public mind.

What strategy, then, might one pursue to counteract this view which is now so prevalent? I no longer concern myself with the diehard cornucopians and techno-optimists who will never be convinced that anything truly catastrophic could ever happen to us or the natural systems that support us. The way to win any battle for the public mind is to focus on the so-called “persuadables.” These are the people who haven’t really made up their minds about an issue, and they tend to be the largest segment of any population. On this count my worry grows exponentially. As Robert Rapier has explained on this site previously in a piece entitled “We Won’t Stop Global Warming,” most people say they want to do something about global warming. But when one places a price on actually doing something, say, raising the cost of gasoline $1 a gallon through taxes, support for action drops precipitously. People see themselves as maximizing consumers first, and citizens with duties to a greater society second.

Therein lies the conundrum. Any public-spirited sacrifice–even for people who believe there is a problem–seems out of a question in societies whose entire politics and culture are dominated by the idea that personal wants are the equivalent of the public good. In the longer run the question of human freedom becomes even more nettlesome in my view because a sustainable industrial society implies two things: a steady-state economy and a stable population. And, that implies considerable regimentation of daily life, the likes of which people in Western-style democracies have never experienced.”

. June 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm

More on Giving Up Seafood…

Category: Food Systems • Guilt • Seafood
Posted on: June 19, 2009 10:25 AM, by Jennifer L. Jacquet

Why focus on a personal boycott?

My work does not focus on a personal boycott (to date in the scientific literature I have argued for better seafood labeling, eliminating subsidies, and banning the use of fishmeal in livestock feed) but someone out there should be voicing a boycott as an option. This is not because the consumption by one individual will make a difference but mainly because, from a theoretical standpoint, fish need a wider spectrum of voices. At present, the conservation community (and consumers, too, of course) fundamentally relates to most marine life as commodities rather than wildlife. Plus, many consumers suffer cognitive dissonance when we say: the oceans are totally screwed but just eat this rather than that and things will improve. A radical problem calls for (at least the presence of) a radical solution.

R.K. June 23, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Have you come up with any practical actions yet?

Milan June 30, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Here is an idea for an ethical framwork, based on a personal carbon budget.

robin July 15, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I hope I am not too late in adding some thoughts to this correspondence, but I do concur with your commentator RK that we need to get a price on a carbon if we are to effect a change in societal behaviour.

Efforts to assign a cost to the emissions that industry and our domestic activities generate presently include: a) trading systems to regulate them at the point of production and b) initiatives to quantify them at the point of consumption – the so-called carbon footprint. Carbon taxes can be used with both, but I believe neither approach will suffice without additional statutory changes to the legal and accounting framework that corporate entities presently use to report their financial results.

. November 2, 2009 at 2:47 pm

“Our Choice is Al Gore at his best and his worst. It is authoritative, exhaustive, reasoned, erudite, and logical, a textbooklike march through solar and wind power, geothermal energy, biofuels, carbon sequestration, nuclear energy, the potential of forests to soak up carbon dioxide, energy efficiency, and the regulatory tangle that impedes the development of a super-efficient, continent-wide system of transmission lines. It is, thank goodness, no “50 things you can do” primer. To the contrary. Although Gore hopes laypeople will exert political pressure for what he calls “large solutions,” he told me last week in a call from Cairo, Our Choice reflects the experience of someone who knows that it is lawmakers and business leaders who can implement the “laws and policies we really need, including getting a global climate treaty.”

. December 4, 2009 at 12:31 am

As I explained in the Appendix, my experience with the outrageous success of “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See” has led me to firmly believe that–if you want to see tangible progress towards combating climate change–the biggest “bang for your buck” is not to spend all your energy on reducing your personal carbon footprint, but on enlisting others. It is so late in the game, that only large-scale, economy-wide action (i.e. policy changes, soon), will have a reasonable chance of forestalling potential disaster. (Remember, I could always be wrong. But I don’t want to bet my family’s future on that.)”

No matter what the outcome, we are all in this together. So focus your efforts on enlisting others into spreading the word about basic risk management. Spread the word as if our lives depended on it. Because they very well might.

- Greg Cravin

. December 8, 2009 at 3:54 pm

“In an experiment, participants were randomly assigned to select items they wanted to buy in one of two online stores. One store sold predominantly green products, the other mostly conventional items. Then, in a supposedly unrelated game, all of the participants were allocated $6, to share as they saw fit with an anonymous (and unbeknownst to them, imaginary) recipient. Subjects who had chosen items from the green store coughed up less money, on average, than their counterparts. In a second experiment, participants were again assigned to shop in either a green or conventional store. Then they performed a computer task that involved earning small sums of cash. The setup offered the opportunity to cheat and steal with impunity. The eco-shoppers were more likely to do both.

It would be foolish to draw conclusions about the real world from just one paper and from such an artificial scenario. But the findings add to a growing body of research into a phenomenon known among social psychologists as “moral credentials” or “moral licensing.” Historically, psychologists viewed moral development as a steady progression toward more sophisticated decision-making. But an emerging school of thought stresses the capriciousness of moral responses. Several studies propose that the state of our self-image can directly influence our choices from moment to moment. When people have the chance to demonstrate their goodness, even in the most token of ways, they then feel free to relax their ethical standards.

. December 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Q: Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn has said that if you don’t like wars in the Middle East and you’re driving an SUV, you’re not walking the walk. He said driving an SUV is a national security statement. What’s your view?

A: I think it’s true, but even though it’s important for all of us to change our light bulbs and the vehicles we drive, it’s much more important to change our laws and policies. I drive a hybrid and we’ve changed our light bulbs and windows and installed solar panels and geothermal ground source heat pumps and most everything else. But putting the burden on individuals to solve this global crisis is ultimately not going to be the most effective way to solve it.

It’s an important point, and every little bit helps not least because those who make those kinds of changes are more likely to make their voices heard as citizens. But the ultimate solutions are going to come through policies. We need to put a price on carbon, and that’s what cap-and-trade does and that’s also what a CO2 tax does. As long as our current valuation in the marketplace tells us every minute of every day that it’s perfectly all right to dump 90 million tons of global warming into the thin atmosphere surrounding the planet every 24 hours as if that atmosphere is an open sewer, then the individual actions are not going to solve the problem.”

. December 15, 2009 at 10:40 am

The U.S. Civil Rights Movement as an Insurgency

Most Americans fail to appreciate that the Civil Rights movement was about the overthrow of an entrenched political order in each of the Southern states, that the segregationists who controlled this order did not hesitate to employ violence (law enforcement, paramilitary, mob) to preserve it, and that for nearly a century the federal government tacitly or overtly supported the segregationist state governments. That the Civil Rights movement employed nonviolent tactics should fool us no more than it did the segregationists, who correctly saw themselves as being at war. Significant change was never going to occur within the political system: it had to be forced. The aim of the segregationists was to keep the federal government on the sidelines. The aim of the Civil Rights movement was to “capture” the federal government — to get it to apply its weight against the Southern states. As to why it matters: a major reason we were slow to grasp the emergence and extent of the insurgency in Iraq is that it didn’t — and doesn’t — look like a classic insurgency. In fact, the official Department of Defense definition of insurgency still reflects a Vietnam era understanding of the term. Looking at the Civil Rights movement as an insurgency is useful because it assists in thinking more comprehensively about the phenomenon of insurgency and assists in a more complete — and therefore more useful — definition of the term.

Tristan December 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Interesting, I’m going to watch the talk. The original link is broken but I downloaded it from this site:
http://www.carlisle.army.mil/AHEC/mediagallery/videoGallery.cfm?id=32

. April 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Insulate your home, choose energy-efficient appliances, drive a fuel-efficient car (if you must drive at all), moderate your meat and dairy consumption, eat what’s in season, and avoid food that’s been air-shipped.

But let’s step back even further and consider another kind of big picture. Individual actions—no matter what kind of savings they produce—can’t really be evaluated in isolation. In order to be environmentally meaningful, they need to be considered as part of a larger, holistic set of behaviors. For example, if you buy a fuel-efficient hybrid and then proceed to drive it twice as often, you’ve squandered your savings. (That’s what’s known in environmental circles as “the rebound effect.”) Likewise, if you scrupulously buy nontoxic cleaners and 100 percent recycled toilet paper but fly once a month for work, you’re really not doing Earth any favors.”

. July 26, 2011 at 8:17 am

Café scientifique: “Is having a small carbon footprint compatible with our fast-paced lifestyles?”

Upcoming Café scientifique at Canadian Museum of Nature looks at our carbon footprint vs our fast-paced lifestyles
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Don’t miss the Café scientifique and movie night on Friday, July 29 at the Canadian Museum of Nature that will explore the question, “Is having a small carbon footprint compatible with our fast-paced lifestyles?”
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The Café scientifique format provides the opportunity to share different views on a specific topic in a relaxed atmosphere. Participants will enjoy a mix ‘n mingle with delicious appetizers, stimulating conversation and a thought-provoking documentary, “Carbon Nation”, produced by Peter Byck. Special guests include Bruce Yateman and Bernie Couture with EcoCorner and EcoCove, who will be on hand to get the discussion rolling.
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This is a bilingual format; participants may ask their questions in English or French.
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The movie is in English with French subtitles.
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Reservations are required. To reserve, call 613.566.4791. The cost is $25 ($20 for Canadian Museum of Nature members and volunteers).
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Time: doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the event begins at 7:00 p.m. The documentary is 82 minutes long.
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Address: 240 McLeod Street (corner of Metcalfe St), Ottawa.

Follow the Museum on Twitter (@museumofnature / @museedelanature). Become a fan on Facebook.

Tristan July 27, 2011 at 6:58 pm

That looks like an interesting documentary – but 25$! That’s a huge amount of money to see a film, even an interesting and rare one.

. February 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm

There is so much information out there, it’s tough to know what to do, much less know that you’re actually making a difference. We’ll make it super-easy for you. We’ve consolidated the best and most effective actions into one short list. The POW SEVEN is simple and effective. Pledge to do the POW SEVEN once a month and you’ll make a difference.

1. GET POLITICAL

We’re starting off with the toughest one, but arguably the most effective. Once a month, call and/or write your elected officials and ask them to take action on climate change by putting a price on carbon and supporting clean energy legislation. Tell them they will lose your vote if they don’t have a climate action plan. U.S. contact info: SENATE & HOUSE. Don’t vote for candidates that deny climate science or oppose action. Your local League of Conservation Voters ranks US candidates on their environmental positions HERE.

. May 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Stories of resistance
Shades of grey
When it is right to say “no”

Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times. By Eyal Press. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 196 pages; $24. Buy from Amazon.com

YOU have a decent job and work hard. You keep your nose clean, respect authority and have never joined a protest march. Suddenly you have the bad luck to face a cruel and seemingly impossible choice. Your superiors tell you to do something outrageous or unacceptable. Do you obey or, at grave personal cost, refuse? In “Beautiful Souls”, a subtle and thoughtful book, Eyal Press, an American journalist, tells the stories of four very ordinary people who, in widely different times, places and circumstances, surprised themselves by saying “no”.

This morally courageous foursome includes a Swiss police official who broke the law in 1938 by giving entry permits to Jewish refugees; a Serb who, at risk to his own life, saved captured Croats from summary execution during the Serb-Croat war in 1991; an Israeli special-forces soldier in the occupied territories who could no longer stomach orders to protect Israeli settlers who were doing wrong, as he saw it, to Palestinian farmers; and a mid-ranking whistle-blower in a Texas investment company accused of fraud.

. May 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

I present here a series of rules pertaining to the ethics of means and ends: first, that one’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue. When we are not directly concerned our morality overflows; as La Rochefoucauld put it, “We all have strength enough to endure the misfortunes of others.” Accompanying this rule is the parallel one that one’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s distance from the scene of the conflict.

*

Those who opposed the Nazi conquerors regarded the Resistance as a secret army of selfless, patriotic idealists, courageous beyond expectation and willing to sacrifice their lives to their moral convictions. To the occupation authorities, however, these people were lawless terrorists, murderers, saboteurs, assassins, who believed that the end justified the means, and were utterly unethical according to the mystical rules of war. Any foreign occupation would so ethically judge its opposition. However, in such conflict, neither protagonist is concerned with any value except victory. It is life or death.

*

For an elementary illustration of tactics, take parts of your face as the point of reference; your eyes, your ears, and your nose. First the eyes: if you have organized a vast, mass-based people’s organization, you can parade it visibly before the enemy and openly show your power. Second the ears; if your organization is small in numbers, then do what Gideon did: conceal the members in the dark but raise a din and clamor that will make the listener believe that your organization numbers many more than it does. Third, the nose; if your organization is too tiny even for noise, stink up the place.

Always remember the first rule of power tactics: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

The second rule is: Never go outside the experience of your people. When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result is confusion, fear, and retreat. It also means a collapse of communication, as we have notes.

The third rule is: Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

The fourth rule is: Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.

The fourth rule carries within in the fifth rule: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

The sixth rule is: A good tactic is one that your people enjoy. If your people are not having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.

The seventh rule: A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

*

The twelfth rule: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. You cannot risk being trapped by the enemy in his sudden agreement with your demand and saying “You’re right–we don’t know what to do about this issue. Now you tell us.”

The thirteenth rule: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

. July 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm

This record of failure means we know a lot about what strategies don’t work. Green groups, for instance, have spent a lot of time trying to change individual lifestyles: the iconic twisty light bulb has been installed by the millions, but so have a new generation of energy-sucking flatscreen TVs. Most of us are fundamentally ambivalent about going green: We like cheap flights to warm places, and we’re certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

People perceive – correctly – that their individual actions will not make a decisive difference in the atmospheric concentration of CO2; by 2010, a poll found that “while recycling is widespread in America and 73 percent of those polled are paying bills online in order to save paper,” only four percent had reduced their utility use and only three percent had purchased hybrid cars. Given a hundred years, you could conceivably change lifestyles enough to matter – but time is precisely what we lack.

A more efficient method, of course, would be to work through the political system, and environmentalists have tried that, too, with the same limited success. They’ve patiently lobbied leaders, trying to convince them of our peril and assuming that politicians would heed the warnings. Sometimes it has seemed to work. Barack Obama, for instance, campaigned more aggressively about climate change than any president before him – the night he won the nomination, he told supporters that his election would mark the moment “the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” And he has achieved one significant change: a steady increase in the fuel efficiency mandated for automobiles. It’s the kind of measure, adopted a quarter-century ago, that would have helped enormously. But in light of the numbers I’ve just described, it’s obviously a very small start indeed.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719?page=3

. February 22, 2013 at 10:02 pm

It’s not as if all of us who use fossil fuel aren’t implicated – flying to Florida for spring break fills the sky with carbon. But it’s only the fossil fuel industry that lobbies round the clock to make sure nothing ever changes. “We’ve figured out the root of the problem by this point,” says Maura Cowley, who as head of the Energy Action Coalition has been coordinating student environmental efforts for years. Individual action matters, but systemic change – things like a serious price on carbon that the industry has blocked for years – is all that can really turn the tide in the short window the science of climate still leaves open. “Going after them directly feels seriously good,” says Cowley.

MW June 28, 2014 at 10:28 pm

The revolutionary girl understands that freedom is political and not just a question of consumer choices.— Mary Wollstonecraft (@WoIIstonecraft) June 26, 2014

. July 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Forget Shorter Showers

Why personal change does not equal political change
by Derrick Jensen

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

. July 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

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