Politics of narrow nationalist interest miss the underlying national interest in survival

2018-11-16

in Canada, Economics, Politics, Psychology, The environment

This Canadian news article about political opposition to carbon taxes does a good job of summarizing the barriers to stronger greenhouse gas mitigation policy that people like Doug McAdam and Stephen Gardiner have articulated:

“Certainly there are abundant grounds to doubt the political wisdom of the Liberal plan. A tax, or anything that resembles it, would be a hard enough sell on its own. But a tax in aid of a vast international plan to save the earth from a scourge that remains imperceptible to most voters, to which Canada has contributed little and against which Canada can have little impact, while countries whose actions would be decisive remain inert? Good luck”

To me it seems like a nice demonstration about Gardiner’s 4th proposition, about the “problematic paradigm” in climate change politics:

“In the environmental discourse, the presence of the perfect moral storm is obscured by the dominance and pervasiveness of an alternative, narrower analysis. According to this account, climate change is a paradigmatically global problem best understood as a prisoner’s dilemma or tragedy of the commons played out between nation states who adequately represent the interests of their citizens in perpetuity. However, such models assume away many of the main issues, and especially the intergenerational aspect of the climate problem. Hence, they are inadequate in this case, and perhaps many others. This point has theoretical as well as practical implications.”

This is the logic of Andrew Coyne’s newspaper article, that citizens in democratic states will use the inaction of others around the world to justify their own limited efforts to reduce domestic fossil fuel consumption, fuel production, and exports. As long as someone else is behaving unethically, we have license to do so too. As George Monbiot and others have explained eloquently, that logic is a suicide pact in the case of climate change. We need to establish an international order where continued fossil fuel dependence is discouraged and even punished, and the emergence of that order likely depends on some good faith first steps from the rich countries like Canada who now say their dirty path to prosperity can’t be followed by the rest of the world. It’s actually true that rising living standards in places including India and China can’t be fossil-fuel-driven as they have been in North America, Japan, and Europe for the most part. Convincing developing countries to take the less tested path of development based on carbon safe energy depends on countries that have already quite counterproductively invested enormously in fossil fuel energy to show that they too will move away from it for the sake of all the human generations that will follow us, and all the species whose welfare depends on how much climate change we cause.

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