# A moral puzzle on individual climate action

by on April 23, 2019

The Dutch philosopher Marc Davidson posted the following on the closed FB-group Climate ethics research (reproduced here with Marc’s permission):

Who can help with this moral riddle? Somewhere in the near future I have to be in Venice [leaving from Amsterdam]. I can take the train for about 200 Euro, which emits 0.04 ton CO2. Or I can take the plane for about 40 Euro, which emits 0.15 ton CO2 AND spend 160 Euro on buying emissions rights from the EU ETS which will remove 8 ton CO2 emissions. What is better for the climate and what is the moral right thing to do? I really intend to spend the entire difference on compensation.

In order to facilitate the discussion, let’s call the choice to buy a train ticket “the Train Strategy”, while “the Flight Strategy” would be traveling by air and spending an additional 160 euro on buying and destroying 8 ton CO2 emission rights (that may not be entirely explicit from Marc’s description of the puzzle, but I know from conversations with him that this is what he intends).

If one were to make a simple calculation, both strategies would cost Marc the same amount of money, yet the Flight Strategy would lead to 0.15 minus 8 ton emissions hence would be equivalent to a net removal of 7.85 ton emissions, whereas the Train strategy would amount to 0.04 ton emissions.

I find this a fascinating puzzle, to which I only have a very abstract answer. My answer is this: we should choose that strategy which will, in the medium term, put us on the most ecologically sustainable path. Trying to formulate this criterion a little bit more precise: we should choose the strategy that minimizes aggregate net ecological damage over the next 1000 year. Clearly, that timespan is somewhat arbitrary and there may be a better timespan, but we shouldn’t choose as the relevant timespan the estimated remaining time that planet Earth will exist since that is either unknown or else we assume it is endless, and then we can’t compare strategies. Most importantly, it shouldn’t be a very short timespan, since it is possible that one strategy may pay off more in the very short term, but another in a somewhat longer term (at least, theoretically).

I am not sure whether, if one were to take this abstract criterion, the Train Strategy or the Flight Strategy would perform any better. There are so many unknowns, such as: would the EU ETS at some point, when it runs out of emissions rights, be put under pressure to create more?

There could also be another strategy, that would lead to the highest net emissions, yet may nevertheless score best on the abstract criterion: take the airplane, and donate 160 Euro to a political or activist group that is most effective in working towards the fastest possible structural transition to ecological sustainability, such as Extinction Rebellion which is occupying public spaces and buildings that belong to the legal or political order; or, in the Netherlands, Urgenda which is using legal means to try to force the Dutch government to do much more for climate mitigation.

On the other hand, one may wonder to what extent ‘not acting as a role model’ if one takes a plane when a train is available demoralizes fellow citizens in taking up climate action, and be used as a reason/excuse by others to doing nothing. And it could also be perceived as inconsistent behaviour, although I am not at all sure whether that is in fact the case. These motivational/behavioural effects on others would also have to be estimated, which seems extremely difficult – but from this it doesn’t follow that these effects do not exist.

Of course, someone might respond that the best option is to take the train and make a sizeable donation to an activist group or buy and destroy emissions – but that may not be in the set of financially feasible options.

So I think we may be able to formulate a general, abstract answer to the riddle, but it is likely that we lack sufficient information to know which of the different options will best meet the general answer. My gutfeeling is that 160 euro spent on civic disobedience or public protests is more effective in working towards the changes we need than destroying 8 ton emissions.

1

Martin Holterman 04.23.19 at 11:20 am

I would think that the answer depends a great deal on whether the question concerns only Marc or whether we’re trying to work out the best strategy for Marc and all others similarly situated. Removing 8 tons from the emissions market might not make much of a difference, but a lot of people each removing 8 tons might. (But then, as you say, that might simply bring the moment closer when the authorities are put under pressure to create ETS rights.)

2

Daniel Key 04.23.19 at 12:12 pm

Worth mentioning that the ETS currently runs an enormous surplus of credits and it’s an open question whether it will ever be adjusted to actually reduce total emissions at all.

3

Orange Watch 04.23.19 at 12:18 pm

Paragraph 4 attributes the CO2 removal to the train strategy, when it should be tied to the plane strategy.

4

Ingrid Robeyns 04.23.19 at 12:33 pm

Thanks Orange Watch, will fix that!

5

MisterMr 04.23.19 at 12:38 pm

I think that buying permits is the best action.

I’m a bit puzzled by the idea that this is a moral dilemma though: it seems to me that this is a practical dilemma, what is the most efficient way to reduce emission, the moral choice (whether to reduce pollution or not) is already accepted at the beginning.

6

Rapier 04.23.19 at 1:07 pm

This starts on the assumption that the ‘market’ can solve the problem of CO2 emissions altering the climate. The ‘market’ in this case the individual making a cost benefit calculation. The entire worlds economic/industrial society, including all markets, are based on burning carbon. The ‘market’ cannot fix a problem created by ‘markets’. The belief they can is the purest of neoliberalism. The cure in this instance is to have neither a train or a plane.

There is no ‘market’ solution to global warming. It’s like a cat chasing its tail. An additional and sweet irony is writers and thinkers get paid for discussing and promoting the ‘market’ as a cure.

7

Cian 04.23.19 at 1:22 pm

I feel this kind of ignores the obvious question. Why is flight cheaper than the train and what as a society can we do to fix this?

I do feel that one of the hard climate facts nobody much wants to face up to (we saw this in the green deal discussion in the US as well) is that flight in it’s current form isn’t sustainable, and we probably need to think about what a world without it looks like (*)

* See also the even harder political problem – that our military forces, particularly that of the US, are environmental disasters.

8

Zamfir 04.23.19 at 1:36 pm

The whole Venice/train/plane might be a bit of a distraction? If buying ETS rights effective and a moral good, then it hardly matters whether you go to Venice or stay at home, or go twice, or take the train or the plane. Those are rounding errors in the story.

I think the question becomes more – if buying some amount of ETS is good, then how should someone decide where to put the limit? 100 euro/ year, a 1000, 10,000? It would be weird to base that number on the cost of 1 train trip.

Perhaps a suggestion (again, assuming that someone believes that the ETS will be reasonably effective): estimate for yourself what you think the carbon price should be today, subtract teh actual price, multiply that by your estimated emissions (including indirect emissions), and spend that amount on ETS (or give it to Urgenda if you think that is more effective per euro). Push the system towards your desired point. Once you do that, you can “optimize” each travel or other emission-generating activity. If your price is 200 euro/tonne, then the trip to venice costs 40 euro plus 30 euro for the ETS fund.

For example, closing coal plants in the Netherlands was estimated by the PBS at 70 euro/tonne. Other measures in that price range also have substantial support. GroenLinks gets a million votes, other parties have substantial numbers of pro-climate action voters as well. Just as a wild guess, there might be 2 million people in the country who would support a 100 euro/tonne (or more) price target instead of the current 25 of the ETS.

At 15 tonne/voter (including some kids in the balance), that’s about 1000 euro per person “virtual ETS”, or 2 billion in total, or 80 million ETS rights/ year at current prices. On a European total of 2000 million – not insignificant. Spread the scheme to some other countries as well, and it might well become the price-determinant for the ETS system.

9

Omega Centauri 04.23.19 at 1:45 pm

He should be able to turn his destruction of the credits into an example that others can copy. Maybe deface them, then mount them in a prominent place, so that others see that he (or some anonymous person) was willing to spend cash to do this.

10

Jerry Vinokurov 04.23.19 at 2:13 pm

This is more of a technical question but can someone explain how that 160 euro contributes to the removal of 8 tons of CO2? Like, what’s the actual mechanism that makes that happen?

11

soru 04.23.19 at 2:34 pm

> it seems to me that this is a practical dilemma, what is the most efficient way to reduce emission,

It’s a moral dilemma, if the trolley problem is. It could be restated as ‘Do you stop to avoid running over the one worker in front of you, or do you use the extra earnings from getting to your job on time to buy malaria blankets for 200 African children?’

Now, it might be the case the framing of the problem is wrong; for example, if you actually did that, you would probably get fired, and so not earn any money. Which is analogous to your flying becoming a story that dominates media coverage of the event you are going to.

Or the malaria charity might be a scam and all the money donated is stolen. Which is analogous to the EU ETS being bogus.

It’s when you don’t believe those apply, and are absolutely sure that running over the guy on the tracks is efficient, that it counts as a moral dilemma.

12

steven t johnson 04.23.19 at 2:48 pm

Abstractly, clearly the answer is the one the puzzle was devised to justify: An isolated individual considering only the green virtue of a single transaction takes the flight.

If you stop abstracting other issues, the question of why the plane ticket doesn’t already incorporate the cost of the carbon dioxide emissions becomes rather compelling. The puzzle is only a puzzle in a society where only the individual is expected to be moral. And that includes only voluntary choices, at that. A plane ticket where the purchase of offsets is required for the ticket is evidently out of the question.

If you get a little less abstract and allow for human variation and human error as this choice is repeated again and again, then intentions will fail. This is guaranteed. Posing the flight as a moral choice is then true individually, but not collectively.

I do think that even if you insist on reducing green morals to individual consumer choices, then you still should not abstract from life to consider only a single transaction. In that case, you should opt for the train, as it is collectively the less carbon costly arrangement.

But even then, if you exercise your ingenuity, composing moral puzzles where speed is urgent will still provide the desired outcome, a morally correct choice of the flight.

And lastly, this little thought experiment seems to me very much like most philosophical thought experiments, assuming away all the details that actually should guide our choices. In this case, the notion that the market in carbon emissions permits is actually a feasible choice. This seems to me to be an economist’s utopia. The notion that putting the money saved on the ticket into the coffers of an environmentalist group seems even less likely to effectively reduce net emissions. It would be good for showing the purity of the vegetable soul, I suppose.

13

Anarcissie 04.23.19 at 2:54 pm

There is also the underlying problem(s) of ‘having to be in Venice’ which perhaps should not be completely elided.

14

Zamfir 04.23.19 at 3:15 pm

Cian says: “I feel this kind of ignores the obvious question. Why is flight cheaper than the train and what as a society can we do to fix this?”

Main reason is maintenance on tracks – typically about a third of railway operating cost, while airports are a minor cost for air travel. That’s not even including capital cost of building the track, since this is often not passed on to the paying passenger. Staffing is another reason. Planes are fast, so they need much less staff per passenger-kilometer even though they have more staff per kilometer. I looked up some numbers – Easyjet does 10 times more passenger-kilomter per employee than the Dutch railway operator. JR East (with the shinkansens) comes closer, but still a third or so of Easyjet. A similar but milder effect comes into play for equipment cost – planes might be expensive to buy and run, but they do put on a lot of passenger-kilometers in a year.

Flexibility is a factor in the background – planes can change routes to match changing demand, railway networks are less flexible. It’s unavoidable that a railway network has underutilized track and equipment – and their cost gets born by the heavier-used parts of the network.

15

afinetheorem 04.23.19 at 3:28 pm

This is why economists are confused. We know how to solve externality problems. Tax them in the Pigouvian way, or cap them and sell tradeable permits. Both work (and which you prefer is a political question).

Expecting individuals to make moral decisions which further require unreasonable knowledge is a fool’s errand. Bad environmental policy always has this feature. The amount of effort spent to get people to turn off the tap when they brush their teeth, rather than making the price of water one that ensures we do not run the aquifers out, is insane – hardly any of the water we use is on tooth brushing, but tons is used in agriculture, industry and energy.

Likewise, pushing people to “save the environment” by using tote bags, then pushing back that cotton production produces far more greenhouse gases…no normal person will be able to follow the debates here (it’s hard enough for a field expert!).

Just charge a tax of .80 cents on the train ride, 3 euro on the plane ride, and let people figure it out. Or alternatively, have the rail line and airline pay for the carbon permits, update their prices, then let people figure it out.

Now, if the question is, what should I do *if government won’t act in the interest of social welfare*, that is an actually interesting moral question. But in this case, the carbon permit trading system already exists!

16

Trader Joe 04.23.19 at 3:32 pm

As others have implied, color me skeptical that 160E would buy 8 tons of CO2 emission reduction. If that’s the case the airline should charge the whole plane-load of people 200E and buy 800 tons of reduction or do that across their whole schedule and reduce 8 million tons every day….

I’d take the train. Flying sucks on so many levels, the pollution is just one of them. If everyone did that eventually the pollution load would be reduced without the need for the credits since most of the airlines (especially the ones in Europe) don’t need much more than a nudge and a cut-off of state subsidies to go under.

17

Alex 04.23.19 at 4:53 pm

Side point, but given that both the train and plane will presumably be leaving for Venice *regardless* of whether or not he buys a ticket, then the marginal difference you make by going by plane or by train on their own is basically nil. So the overall difference is -8 for the plane and 0 for the train.

18

Chris W. 04.23.19 at 5:03 pm

The mid-term scale as a base for deciding how to act sounds fine, but 1000 years is a lot longer than I would choose. In 1000 years social and technological change will have taken humanity to a point where I expect whatever people do today will be averaged out. My intuition will be something between 200 and 400 years — more than 100 (which is “people who make decisions then will have been talking with people alive today”) in any event; 300 years would leave room for steep decline, world-wide state of war and destruction, plus social and technological recovery, if it comes to that path.

Points that I would take into account are (some already mentioned above):

* What travel offerings are I incentivizing (incrementally) by choosing one option over the other? Flight – I create demand for cut-price airline tickets. Train – I create demand for trains. Also, there ARE cheaper options than EUR 200 for a ticket Amsterdam-Venice, but you have to jump through hoops to get to discounts and last-minute discounters. If more people do this, the offer will become more user-friendly and accessible, the way it is now for airline tickets.

* Do those EU ETS credits actually do what they promise they do? Are there scientific studies that tot up their carbon-effect with the same amount of certainty as I can quantify the T of CO2-equiv added by a plane or train? I have not dug into this question, but right now am just not at the same level of trust. They may be a scam. They may be an overly optimistic program… I work with forests, and know that planting a tree somewhere isn’t nearly the same thing as preventing a tree’s worth of deforestation.

* Other than EU ETS, are there more efficient ways of offsetting my travel carbon, if I were to chose the cheaper (and in some cases still more convenient) option. I could for example donate EUR 160 to a political action group that aims to make flying more expensive, or that does work that reduces emissions more directly.

19

Aardvark Cheeselog 04.23.19 at 5:17 pm

Jerry Vinokurov @10:

I believe the calculation is that â‚¬160 buys credits for 8 tons, and the credits are destroyed, so that 8 tons will never be emitted. So, a “removal” from the pool of emissions that haven’t happened yet, but would if those credits were used. Not a removal of CO2 currently in the atmosphere.

20

hix 04.23.19 at 6:21 pm

The best real life solution should be to buy the cheapest plane ticket and go one with ones life, try to do good for the world in some other setting that mostly wont involve consume choices. Otherwise we got to start with why should the numbers be right, any of them? Shouldnt we count plane emissions at a higher factor because they have stronger global warming effect due to the higher altitude of emission. And if we dont do that, how do we count the electricity for the traines? At the prices of marignal extra electricity or as network average? Id say the first which should involve 0 renewables. And why do we count only global warming externalities, both choice create a hell lot of noise for example. Also, how do we count us as marginal passengers? Would the trains or planes go half empty without us anyway, or do we encourage more half empty train/plane activity by paying a high price…?

And yes, we dont know how politicians will react to particular high or low emission rights prices, they might just create more or remove some which they have done in the past.

21

Peter Dorman 04.23.19 at 6:44 pm

Since Iâ€™ve just written a book on this topic, let me chime in. I see three problems:

1. I agree with some of the other commenters that this is not a â€œmoralâ€ issue. It would be if the vast harm of climate change was remediable by isolated individual action, but itâ€™s not. Moreover, the very designation of certain behaviors as casting us into the bins of moral and immoral is a big impediment to creating a large enough political coalition to getting the real work done, at least in the US. Informing a large portion of the population they are immoral is not a great organizing strategy.

2. In reality, the full effects of individual actions on global carbon emissions is unknowable, since we are all enmeshed in a web of economic and social networks. A choice I make is likely to affect a choice you make, etc. For instance, if you arrive in Venice later because you took the train, how will that affect the choices made by the people in Venice youâ€™re traveling to see? Maybe theyâ€™ll drive somewhere for the day. Are those carbon emissions consequences of your decision to not fly? Yes, to some extent. (And the extent may vary, depending on the nature of your connection to them, what you were planning to do in Venice, etc.) I argue in the book that the lessons of the socialist calculation debateâ€”the unknowability of effects that are local, transient, subjective and intangible, combined with the sheer complexity of the systems involvedâ€”apply directly to carbon calculation and defeat the various popular footprint formulas.

3. The offset industry, despite its embrace by corporations, policy regimes like the ETS and many academic gurus, is largely a racket. Careful research, which I document in the book, shows that we canâ€™t be sure that, in the aggregate, offsets have in fact had a negative effect on carbon emissions. Even in the somewhat more plausible world of REDD+ (planting and enhancing forests) the most we can say is there is a temporary storage of carbon in biomass that can be reversed by recurring natural forces, future human choices (such as expanding agriculture in the face of declining crop yields) or the effects of climate change itself. Offsets are loopholes introduced into carbon pricing systems largely at the behest of business interests. Their purpose is political, and if at some point we are going to try to adhere to a real carbon budget, there is no place for them. That of course will mean we will also need a very different politics.

22

Zamfir 04.23.19 at 7:23 pm

“As others have implied, color me skeptical that 160E would buy 8 tons of CO2 emission reduction. ”
Perhaps not exactly 8, but a lot lot more than that 0.1 tonne difference between rail and air.

It doesn’t sound like much, but 20euro/tonne is not that unreasonable for the range where industry starts reducing CO2. If they are fairly sure that the price will stay there, or go up further.

For example, it adds about 1ct to a kwh of gas-fired electricity – and industrial users only pay a few ct/kwh. If electricity is a large chunk of your expenses, than such an increase will push people to finally upgrade aging equipment, or to make machinery variable instead of running full power all the time, etc. For the really CO2-intense industries, 20 euro/tonne is enough to justify significant changes to their core processes. Again, if they are fairly sure that the 20 euro is not going away.

So it does add up, roughly. The EU made changes to the ETS system recently, to hoover up excess rights over the next few years. And prices quickly rose from almost zero to about 25 euro/ton – the price range where the low-hanging reduction fruit becomes worth the bother.

23

hix 04.23.19 at 9:58 pm

Discount point to point airlines and long distance high speed trains look a bit like solar and nuclear power unfortunatly. The planes get cheaper and the trains somewhat more expensive every year. Thats not to defend the millions flying from Munich to Hamburg or sth. like that which just makes no sense on any level, but Amsterdam Venice is not a particular train friendly route.

24

Mistermr 04.23.19 at 9:59 pm

@soru 11

“Itâ€™s a moral dilemma, if the trolley problem is. It could be restated as â€˜Do you stop to avoid running over the one worker in front of you, or do you use the extra earnings from getting to your job on time to buy malaria blankets for 200 African children?”

I have my doubts about the trolley problem too, however I’ll try to unpack my doubt more:

In the trolley problem, we have a situation where we are supposed to calculate the value of different human lifes, so for example you can get to a point where you have the question “do 5 children count more or less than 5 middle aged guys”. This poses a lot of moral doubts because we generally think that it is immoral to calculate the value of a human life.

In the emissions problem, however, there is no difference in the kind of emissions that we are calculating, so it is obvious that, once we know that we want to minimize emissions, the best route is the one that minimizes emissions, there is no moral doubt on how we calculate the moral value of an emission against the other, because all emissions are the same, whereas in the trolley problem there is a moral distaste in calculating lifes numerically.

There is another way in which both the trolley problem and the emissions problem can cause a moral dilemma, and I suspect that this is the real root of the moral doubt:

– if we think about ethics in consequentialist terms, then the obvious way to solve the problem is to calculate the consequence of each choice and see what choice leads to the least bad situation;

– but many people do not think of morals in consequentialist terms, rather in a sort of proceduralist way where ends don’t justify means and some action are inherently unhetical.
In the trolley problem, the problem is that if I choose the best action (trample the worker and save the kids) I actively choose to do an action that is supposed to be intrinsecally evil: I’m choosing to take a human life; whereas if I let the kids die I’m not taking an action that causes their death so in a procedural view of morals letting the kids die is less bad than actively killing the worker.
Also, most people istinctively see ethics as a matter of emotions, so the consequentilaist view sounds cold and calculating, and you wouldn’t really trust a consequentialists that has no problem trampling a worker for the greater good.

I personally am a consequentialist and I think that the procedural view of morals is just a simplification because, in reality, we cannot really calculate all the consequences of our actions, so we naturally have to discount the calculations of the future greater good and give more weight to the immediate evil of the means, but in the purely abstract situation of the tought experiment where there is no doubt about the consequence of my actions, I think that if I let the kids die I’m equally as guilty as if i killed them actively, so I think it’s a stupid tought experiment (because all the counterintuitive part is hidden in the assumption that I can perfectly calculate the consequences of my actions, something that in reality I can never do).

The emissions problem also could be seen both from a consequentialist and a proceduralist angle.
In my opinion in the abstract world of the tought experiment where all consequences are known only the consequentialist approach makes sense, however, if we want to apply the proceduralist approach, we have something like this:

– causing emissions is immoral in principle, so going by plane instead than by train is in principle a more immoral ation (note, no5t a less efficient, but an immoral one).

– buying emissions rights doesn’t count as a moral action, because the ones who don’t emit CO2 are those businesses that can’t buy an extra permit, so the moral action counts for them, excluded that it doesn’t count because it’s forced.

Therefore in terms of procedural immorality the situation where I pollute as much as I want but prevent others to pollute is very immoral.

But this assumes that we see pollution as something like an immorality in itself, instead than something that is going to have bad consequences, it’s a view where the one who doesn’t pollute does so in order to feel at ease with his/her coscience instead than for the objective of reducing world pollution.
So in the emissions example the procedural approach sounds extremely weird to me, even more so than in the trolley problem.

25

Birdie 04.23.19 at 10:08 pm

WaPo says CO2 recapture technology is approaching economic feasibility, today with moderate subsidies, using the condensate to pressurize elderly oil wells for residual production. Environmentalists say subsidizing oil production in any way is bad, but hey, itâ€™s actually closing the loop on the carbon cycle, putting the used-up stuff back where it came from, which seems like a good thing. … https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2019/04/19/climate-change-solution-slowly-gains-ground/

26

Alex SL 04.23.19 at 10:15 pm

The main problem with the dilemma appears to be Peter Dorman’s third point, i.e. the idea that buying emission rights is any use. Surely these rights have not been set to an amount so that when I go out and buy 8 tons some factory will go, “okay, we will produce less shoes now than we can sell, for we cannot use more coal-derived electricity”?

I find it really hard to believe that flights are fairly priced. Yes, train tracks cost a lot of maintenance. But are airport infrastructure and security and the maintenance going into the airplanes themselves not considerably more expensive? Also don’t see how trains would need more staff per person and distance – the average small, short-distance train in Germany seems to have two staff on it, or one if there is nobody checking the tickets, and a rather long, high speed train maybe five or so tops? Maybe I am totally mistaken about all this, but is there a possibility that air travel (including security and fuel) is highly subsidised compared to other forms of travel?

27

Steve 04.23.19 at 10:35 pm

I find the â€˜moralâ€™ part of this problem far harder than others seem to. I donâ€™t know if this helps, or just seems irrational, but the worry is that in taking the plane I seem to be contributing to the problem in a way in which Iâ€™m not if I take the train. Hereâ€™s an imperfect analogy: I donâ€™t eat meat, because I think that the suffering to animals is atrocious. Iâ€™m at a restaurant and my friend points out that the meat option is cheaper than the veggie option – I could contribute the difference to an animal rights charity and that would do some good (whereas not eating the meat option would do nothing: after all, there is a dead chicken in the kitchen tonight.) I wouldnâ€™t eat the chicken. I can do two things here. I can give a fancy justification in terms of something like the doing/allowing distinction (I teach philosophy- I really can do that) OR I can just accept that, for me and my tribe, it is kind of taboo. Iâ€™m not certain which response is best. But, at least, I hope you can see why – whatever the details of the consequentialist logic – the choice seems hard. And I feel the same about the train/plane thing – Iâ€™m happy to admit that taking the plane and offsetting might have better consequences; it just seems wrong. Maybe Iâ€™m being confused. But the relevant confusion is all-too-human if so: I bet that even Peter Singer would find it tricky to eat a pork chop as a means to abolishing factory farming.

28

arcseconds 04.23.19 at 11:49 pm

Am I missing something, because the answer seems obvious to me?

The only remedy to climate change is (immense) structural change in how we run our societies. Individuals scrimping and saving on small portions tonnes of carbon does approximately nothing. All that means is that the fossil-fuel carbon is there for someone else to use, and so long as the externalities aren’t somehow internalized, they are economically incentivized (over and above where it ‘should’ be if they were bearing
the full cost of their action) to use it now rather than later or not at all.

This will continue until either society collapses to the point where air travel becomes a difficult undertaking, or we use up all the easily-available carbon and therefore reach the maximum level of global warming (at which point either we’ve found another source of energy or society undergoes an immense collapse) â€” or, counter to the hypothesis, we reign in our carbon emissions somehow.

Saving even significant amounts of carbon on an individual level (because there’s a lot of us doing it) just mean cheap flights (and expansion of fossil-fuel powered industry and military exercises subsidized by global disaster) for longer for everyone who is not doing it.

If you could get so many people avoiding flights to the point where the airline industry itself has to significantly retrench, then perhaps that might slow emissions, but it’s still not a complete solution and is already unrealistically optimistic â€” there just aren’t enough people willing to take the personal hit to do this (even if there are in principle, which I doubt, there’s a big coordination problem) plus past experience is that we solve these sorts of problems by regulation, not by individual economic choices.

So you should do whatever is most likely to bring about the necessary structural changes. Incentivizing and investing in rail travel is something, I suppose, but political action is the only thing that’s actually going to work, so fund that.

If, per steven t johnson, this isn’t going to work, then we’re screwed and you may as well save yourself the time (do you have a different opinion, steven?). And maybe the money, if you’re convinced by that, but I don’t want to endorse that strategy because we are certainly doomed if everyone thinks we’re doomed and does nothing. Anyway, in terms of regret minimization doing something and knowing you tried is surely better than bitterly crowing that you did nothing and therefore didn’t waste your time / weren’t conned.

The very small amount of signalling achieved by taking the train is not worth talking about, I can’t see how structural change could ever be effective by a few subtle signals here and there (“I repeatedly hinted that I wanted effective climate change action through a whole lot of small economic choices and appearing marginally more environmentally clean to the small number of people who know me personally! How did you fail to notice this, global market society?”)

Plus if we’re going to talk about signalling, then why can’t this also be signalled? “I took the cheapest possible flight and donated the difference: go and do likewise!” is a great thing to be signalling.

(If the point is to not look like a hypocrite, I don’t see the point – if donating the difference really is the best strategy, then there’s nothing hypocritical about this at all, in fact one could argue the train-takers are the ones doing something unhelpful, by promoting personal purity over effective action.)

This is all very armchair, so maybe I have missed something subtle or even something obvious, but so far no-one’s saying anything to change my mind about any of this…

29

Brian 04.23.19 at 11:50 pm

As Anarcissie says, you can’t really elide the problem of going to Venice in the first place. If you get to go to Venice, then someone else should be allowed to go to New York, another to Delhi, Munich, Johannesburg, Phoenix, etc… Someone needs to grow a crop, make a living, and now everyone is putting CO2 into the air in order to carry on with their normal lives, and that’s where we are. That’s not going to be offset somehow. Individual consumer choices seem unlikely to be able to deal with the scale of this problem, and thus I can’t see them bearing any real moral weight.

30

KC 04.24.19 at 2:12 am

It would be nice if our governments were to ensure that market prices fully internalise the cost of carbon emissions. Then we donâ€™t need to worry about these moral problems and turn our attention to other moral issues.

31

faustusnotes 04.24.19 at 2:51 am

I’m not interested in having my individual consumption turned into a moral issue on climate change, because almost every issue involves an insanely complex set of structural factors that need to be addressed by society as a whole and not by my individual choices. I doubt that the calculations of carbon emission are even correctly done for most of these questions (e.g. does the carbon cost of flight vs. train incorporate the emission due to track laying, building the train, etc, is it averaged over busy and non-busy times etc). There are also other complex trade-offs that we as individuals can’t easily calculate. For example local food seems like lower CO2 due to lack of transport, except that imported food is often grown in less carbon-emissive low income settings and is a net lower CO2 emitter for this reason. Or consider the plastic bag issue: one eco-bag uses the same resources as a fantastic number of plastic bags (I think I read somewhere 1600) so unless you reuse your eco bag fanatically for years, you’ll never break even on the resource load (and if you reuse a plastic bag just once each time, you’re making it even harder to justify an eco bag).

These are structural issues, not individual issues, and there is nothing to be gained from asking individuals to make a change. Yes, I could turn my light off when I leave the bathroom. Meanwhile some rich arsehole downtown is lighting up their whole business tower when no one’s in it, just so they can look cool. Don’t expect me to offset their crap.

I don’t know how many times I can say this, but I’ll say it again: you can’t tax your way out of an extinction crisis, and you can’t avoid the extinction crisis by your own contributions. We need to work together as societies to fix this shit. There is no moral dilemma for individuals except who to vote for.

32

Greg 04.24.19 at 4:51 am

+1s for Anarcissie (does Marc really have to be there?) and Peter Dorman’s point 3 (ETSes are bullsh*t).

Don’t they have internet in Venice?

Ask the event organisers to supply you a mobile telepresence device. If they say “what’s that?,” tell them to find out and only book venues that have them.

Or use Facetime or Zoom, if mobility isn’t needed.

If none of these is feasible, the moral thing to do is withdraw, and spend the time saved volunteering for a climate action group that you deem worthwhile.

33

Zamfir 04.24.19 at 6:19 am

Steve says:”… the worry is that in taking the plane I seem to be contributing to the problem in a way in which Iâ€™m not if I take the train. Hereâ€™s an imperfect analogy: I donâ€™t eat meat, because I think that the suffering to animals is atrocious. Iâ€™m at a restaurant and my friend points out that the meat option is cheaper than the veggie option …”

I would sort of understand this, if the dilemma was “stay at home or fly+donation”. But if someone accepts that 0.05 tonne for the train is acceptable, why is 0.15 for the plane taboo? In your analogy, it’s like choosing between the big chicken and a smaller chicken.

And we can’t see this in isolation. The person asking the question is almost certainly doing other things that cause GHG emissions, to the tune of tonnes per year.

If it is really about taboos, then my technocratic mind would still prefer to start with cost-effective taboos…

34

nastywoman 04.24.19 at 6:34 am

@
Iâ€™m not interested in having my individual consumption turned into a moral issue on climate change, because almost every issue involves an insanely complex set of structural factors that need to be addressed by society as a whole and not by my individual choices”.

Yes! –
that’s why I am interested to have any individuals consumption turned into a moral issue – as another piece of the puzzle – WE try to solve.

And WE need philosophers who come out with such ”puzzles” as much as we need Swedish schoolgirls who say they don’t fly anymore ”for climate reasons, because they don’t want to say one thing and do another thing”.

I want to practise as I preach,” she said and with her ”puzzling protest” has ”galvanized protests by schoolchildren around the world, after delivering a fiery speech NOT only in Da von.
”Unlike many of the movers and shakers gathered in the Swiss ski resort, Thunberg has not zipped into town for a few quick meetings at luxury hotels.
With the train trip from Stockholm, which took 32 hours, Thunberg was making a statement in opposition to many of the Davos elite, who flew in by private jet”.

So – such ”statements” -(or ”puzzles”) help a lot.

Right?

35

Z 04.24.19 at 8:17 am

What faustusnotes @31 said.

36

MFB 04.24.19 at 10:11 am

The fact that there has to be any debate around so simple an issue, after all these decades of global warming, surely shows that the issue itself is meaningless.

I disagree with faustusnotes on many, many things, but he is absolutely correct in saying that individual choice is meaningless and any technology facilitating such individual choice, such as offsets, is simply a distraction aimed at preventing effective action against global warming.

People should not waste time on such false moral dilemmas; it is immoral to do so.

37

arcseconds 04.24.19 at 12:11 pm

@ Steve #27:

I think you are rather confused :-)

How on earth is taking the train not contributing in exactly the same way as taking the plane? They both contribute carbon. The difference is only in degree, not in kind.

If you really object to carbon emissions in the way you object to eating meat, then surely you shouldn’t go to the conference at all. It’s also not really a taboo, is it, if you could quite easily avoid it altogether, but you do it anyway?

More analogous than a vegan is me thinking eating a few large animals is not contributing to my personal animal death toll in the same way as eating a larger number of small animals, but being not terribly interested in eliminating as far as possible my own meat eating (I’m still going to do it, I’ll just have the pork rather than the chicken thanks, not only that I’ll express moral disquiet about eating chicken, but I’ll shrug my shoulders about the pork), and also not that interested in reducing total animal suffering.

The thought of eating the chicken and donating the difference, well, maybe that is the right thing to do, but it makes me squeemish for some reason, perhaps we could call it a taboo — could there be an underlying principle to this?

38

Keybored 04.24.19 at 2:14 pm

Good topic, and I think one that will rise in importance. Carbon-intensive industries will face pressures to move from high CO2 emission locations (Europe, Aussie, Canada), and setting rules so they just don’t relocate to locations with low CO2 emissions is a moral challenge. A robust carbon pricing market can only go so far, and markets are quick to reorganize in the face of change.

39

Orange Watch 04.24.19 at 5:08 pm

How on earth is taking the train not contributing in exactly the same way as taking the plane? They both contribute carbon. The difference is only in degree, not in kind.

This should not need pointed out at this point, but this simply is not true. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated. See e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2010/sep/09/carbon-emissions-planes-shipping

40

Matthew Rendall 04.24.19 at 5:14 pm

Liz Cripps has suggested that in addition to political contributions, another efficient way to ‘offset’ your emissions might be to donate to research on green technology (‘On Climate Matters: Offsetting, Population and Justice’, *Midwest Studies in Philosophy*, 40 (1) [2016]: 114-28). Driving down the price of alternative energy as is one of the most important things we can do. Finding alternatives to meat is another. Supporting research on either one is likely to do more good than taking the train.

This debate has similarities to that between utopian socialists and Marxists in the 19th century, with the former focusing on personal action (model factories, etc.) and the latter on structural change. There’s no doubt as to which group was more effective, though the utopians might not have cared for the results.

41

Brian 04.24.19 at 5:18 pm

â€œI repeatedly hinted that I wanted effective climate change action through a whole lot of small economic choices and appearing marginally more environmentally clean to the small number of people who know me personally! How did you fail to notice this, global market society?â€

Moral consequences aside, this would make a great T-shirt.

42

Trader Joe 04.24.19 at 5:25 pm

Several have commented on the alternative of “not going” or dialing in remotely and that’s certainly a viable choice to the extent there is some discretion involved in the trip (I’m not sure the OP actually says what its for). Technology has facilitated a great deal efficiency in that regard, but its hardly carbonless either as it typically relies upon some mix of electricity, plastic and rare-earth metals in order to work properly. Amazingly too, despite the available tech, airports are more crowded than ever.

That said, there can be some moral dilemma in trips that might be viewed as non-discretionary such as (perhaps) attending a siblings wedding or perhaps a graduation or other singular event. Indeed most people wouldn’t think more than a few seconds about the carbon footprints they are leaving as they booked the first available flight with the hopes of spending some final minutes with a dying loved one.

Faustnote’s point about not making one’s singular choices into a moral dilemma are well taken, but it doesn’t stop one from wondering if any individual choice is the best or most Pareto efficient choice they can be making under their own set of individual circumstances.

43

clew 04.24.19 at 5:29 pm

arcseconds, you do seem to have missed the nature of ETS credits — it’s the EU’s “cap, trade” and maybe eventually squeeze system. There are a finite number of ETS credits, and if you buy some and don’t use them, your lazier/greedier neighbor has fewer to use (or they’re more expensive).

The trips in the question are within the EU and therefore had to buy their own ETS credits, yes?

Personally, I like a cap-and-rebate system, to make literal that everyone alive has equal rights in the atmosphere. (Arguments for a tax-and-rebate. Description of B.C., Canada’s tax-and-partial-rebate.)

44

Heliopause 04.24.19 at 7:47 pm

“Who can help with this moral riddle…What is better for the climate and what is the moral right thing to do?”

Cancel the trip, take all of the money you were going to spend on it, and give it to the poor.

45

John Quiggin 04.25.19 at 12:29 am

The EU system was pretty slack when it started but now works largely as intended. It is gradually being extended to include intra-EU air travel, which will make the voluntary purchase of credits redundant.
You can buy credits independently of any particular activity such as travelling

I had some related thoughts here

https://aeon.co/ideas/opportunity-costs-can-carbon-taxing-become-a-positive-sum-game

46

nastywoman 04.25.19 at 5:06 am

@
”Cancel the trip, take all of the money you were going to spend on it, and give it to the poor”

But ”the poor” got much more money (than just 200 bucks) – after a relative of mine went to the Biennale in Venice and saw Alejandro Aravena’s ”Art”.

Afterwards he donated over 6.000 Bucks for a housing project for the Poor.

47

nastywoman 04.25.19 at 5:27 am

– and is it… okay? here – to call all of these demands for NOT travelling to Venice ”a bit silly”?
– as even ME (”An overfed, long-haired leaping gnome”) – understood that ”the moral puzzle” the Philosopher proposed is actually NOT (that much) about a ”literal trip” to Venice and it could be even… like one of these… ”puzzling comments”… which sometimes even don’t pass the censors of CT… as they might be ”too crazy” or ”too funny” or generally not being obviously ”coherent” – making US think too hard?

And if we think too hard – we might get a… a… headache?

48

Moz of Yarramulla 04.25.19 at 7:24 am

Offsets are only valuable in the context of a very short term, market-driven start of the necessary process that leads to the end of fossil fuel flight. So any kind of thousand year or even hundred year analysis that includes flight is mistaken right from the very start. The climate emergency doesn’t allow us the luxury of saying “in the long term we’re all dead”, because right now we’re on track for less than a billion people alive in 2100. By then anyone reading this in 2019 is going to be dead, sure, but so are any young people we might know, or any children or grandchildren we might have.

In that context: if you must travel, take the train. Better by far to use whatever skills and advantages you might have to avoid the travel altogether. Especially if you’re a university professor or somesuch, you need to be part of the intellectual elite showing ordinary mortals how teleconferencing, video calls and so on obviate the need for shuffling meat puppets about the place. If you can’t do it, how can anyone without your advantages do it?

49

Moz of Yarramulla 04.25.19 at 7:30 am

Also: offsets are avoided emissions, not actual sequestration in almost all cases. The usefulness of planting trees is still being debated but in AFAIK all agree than it the short term tree planting causes emissions. Especially when it’s existing forests being converted to plantation, the earliest claimed net benefit for that that I’m aware of is 20 years. So: emissions have to drop to zero, as quickly as possible.
Being paid not to do something that can’t be allowed to happen is a cheat or a scam. But if you’re into that stuff, I’m am happy to be paid not to murder anyone (either specifically or in general). Offers c/o CrookedTimber, they have my email address. Murder offsets: they’re a thing.

50

arcseconds 04.25.19 at 8:34 am

@ clew #43

OK, I wasn’t discussing the ETS, but rather a situation where there’s no effective management on carbon emissions at all, as I was under the impression the ETS wasn’t effective. John Quiggin #45 says this has changed, and I’m glad to hear it. I will read his links (and yours) and educate myself.

Doesn’t this makes the whole discussion rather moot (once the plane trips are covered by the ETS)? I think this is the point John is making. Assuming the ETS is effective, the EU budgets its carbon emissions and nothing a potential traveler like Davidson does will alter what the emissions are.

51

arcseconds 04.25.19 at 8:54 am

Orange Watch #39:

So, this seems like pedantry to me, but I will amend my statement to “they both contribute to climate change, the difference is one of degree, not of kind”, underlining that the difference being talked about is a moral difference, not a scientific difference in the exact mechanism by which they pollute. Steve was not arguing that the plane trip is morally different because of the precise way in which it pollutes.

Your criticism seems more to the point with the OP, isn’t it? I mean, that’s where the carbon tonnage measure of the impact is given.

52

engels 04.25.19 at 5:05 pm

Why does he â€˜have to beâ€™ in Venice?

53

hix 04.25.19 at 7:27 pm

All those suggestions just not to go are dull: I suggest to go by bike or electric scooter (this might actually be fun if one has the time).

54

nastywoman 04.25.19 at 9:49 pm

@
”Being paid not to do something that canâ€™t be allowed to happen is a cheat or a scam”.

There are numerous stories of Americans moving to Europe in a time where most European Countries already had started to recycle -(with different and differently marked trash cans) -while they knew from their homeland only one trash bin – and what did (some of them) – love to say:

You need to pay me for putting the Banana peels in a different trash bin than the glass bottle – and now they do it almost all for free…
without getting paid for murdering somebody?

55

Omega Centauri 04.26.19 at 2:00 am

Kudos for 21 and 22. Its the long term global emissions over the entire fossil fuel age that matter. Forcing every individual action to be climate neutral at worst would be a highly inefficient way of attacking the problem.

25 Birdie: No, the proposed carbon capture isn’t much more than a big PR fig leaf. The amount likely captured is tiny. The method consumes a half ton of methane for every ton of carbon captured. The extra oil produced with it might easily exceed the amount of CO2 used in its production. Its really a way to mislead by creating the impression that the problem is solved, when that in no way is the case. Now free air capture that replaces CO2 that would otherwise have been “left in the ground”, say to provide the fizz in a companies sodapop, might be a slight win for the environment, but its highly unlikely this will ever amount to more than a rounding error.

56

Fake Dave 04.26.19 at 5:06 am

I think the correct answer is to fly because you A) are giving less of your time and money to a corporate entity and B) it’s easier for you.

A) is pretty self-explanatory if you assume that corporate entities and government agencies are far more responsible for climate change than individuals and are, therefore, inherently less trustworthy stewards of your resources than you yourself would be. Whether you use your “change” from the plane ticket to buy offsets or not, there’s no reason to think the railroad would have spent it any more ethically.

B) is a little more abstract and debatable, but I think decisions that will decrease an individual’s quality of life (say, by arriving late and exhausted after a grueling train ride) tend to be a tough sell from a utilitarian standpoint. In a situation like this, it’s almost impossible to measure how much you taking the train train benefits other people, nature, or society at large, but it’s obviously going to cost you something (even if ticket prices being equal, it’s still extra travel time). Since the individual in this thought experiment is assumed to be committed to fighting climate change, we should be wary of decisions that negatively impact their lives as they may also reduce their motivation and effectiveness as climate activists in the future.

I think buying the carbon credits is largely tangential to this moral calculus and raises as many issues as it addresses (Are the millions of people who fly without buying credits being immoral? Even the ones who can’t afford the train?). What matters is that we have two scenarios where the individual is contributing to the problem of emissions while financially rewarding the source of those emissions. In the plane scenario, the problem is made much worse, but the problematic behavior is only slightly rewarded. In the train scenario the problem is less severe, but the reward for causing that problem (as well as the cost to the individual) is much higher, as is the cost to the consumer.

Of course, this all gets complicated if you start looking at per-passenger government subsidies and consider giving money to railway and transit to be a way of evening the scales. I don’t know if one individual’s travel plans would have any effect on what is essentially a public policy issues, however. As I see it, if trains and planes are both too dirty to keep around in their current state, then the comparatively large reward (and tacit approval) that comes with taking the train may actually be more harmful than the much smaller transfer of resources that accompanies begrudgingly taking the plane.

This isn’t a hard calculus to make if you assume that individual self-interest is a valid moral dimension. In the real world, almost everyone (except climate activists and train aficionados) would buy the plane ticket and I don’t have a problem with that.

57

reason 04.26.19 at 7:56 am

I thought I would just question if Faustus notes had the topic too singlemindedly in mind with this comment:
“For example local food seems like lower CO2 due to lack of transport, except that imported food is often grown in less carbon-emissive low income settings and is a net lower CO2 emitter for this reason. Or consider the plastic bag issue: one eco-bag uses the same resources as a fantastic number of plastic bags (I think I read somewhere 1600) so unless you reuse your eco bag fanatically for years, youâ€™ll never break even on the resource load (and if you reuse a plastic bag just once each time, youâ€™re making it even harder to justify an eco bag).”

Well both are bad examples. 1. Food The CO2 emitted during production is not the only issue because producing more food in poorer parts of the world is more likely to result in net deforestation. 2 plastic bags – the issue with plastic bags is not resource use but persistent environmental pollution because they are not always properly disposed of (here expensive long lasting alternatives significantly improve incentives).

58

reason 04.26.19 at 8:16 am

This interests me because we had just such a dilemma in my family recently.

My daughter is far to the left of me (and I’m left of center) and her history class was travelling to Auschwitz over Easter (from the Rhein-Main Gebiet). All the class was flying but she didn’t want to fly within Europe (let alone to a neighbouring country). So she took the train and in the end when we hunted up all the discount fares it was actually cheaper (although it involved her staying with friends in Berlin on the way). Somehow, (since the rest of the class travelled by plane) I don’t think consequentialism dominated, it was more a personal ethics issue – of being part of the solution and not part of the problem.

I am a bit agnostic on this issue, ultimately I don’t think you can avoid political solutions. But there is value in people demonstrating that we don’t have to do things the way we have being doing them up to now.

But perhaps, I have to come back to what is the missing theme here. Time. I don’t think we will achieve a solution without re-examining our relationship to time. Going ever faster is the problem. We can’t use up resources accumulated in millions of years in decades and think it will be OK, when it’s gone we’ll find something else. We have to slow down.

59

Alex SL 04.26.19 at 9:33 am

While on this topic, does anybody have a link to a good source explaining how carbon capture is envisioned to work efficiently?

I mean, the whole point of why we are using so much carbon-based fuel is that it is very concentrated and releases a lot of energy when burnt. Unless I very much misunderstand chemistry and physics that means that a lot of energy has to be invested to reverse that process and get CO2 fixed again. In other words, how could one possibly get 1 ton of CO2 out of the air without burning at least enough oil or coal to produce 1 ton of CO2?

(Okay, not a problem as such with regenerative energies, but then the point becomes how much capacity of that one would have to build just to make a dent in what we have added to the atmosphere so far. Would be a bit unpracticual to have half of all wind turbines and solar cells in 2050 working just to draw down CO2, leaving so much less for all other purposes.)

60

Dipper 04.26.19 at 11:09 am

The answer is simple. Don’t go to Venice. Develop an interest in insects instead. You will you have a veritable Serengeti of wildlife drama just a short walk away from where you live. First class entertainment and education with a carbon-positive footprint.

61

Collin Street 04.26.19 at 11:55 am

While on this topic, does anybody have a link to a good source explaining how carbon capture is envisioned to work efficiently?

The intent is that the COâ‚‚ be captured and stored in gaseous form, in suitable air-tight geological strata.

Among other obvious problems, we don’t have a firm understanding of exactly what “suitable” means here, and even if we did it’s not known with certainty if sufficient — or any — suitable strata exist. I mean, we don’t know it to be a-priori impossible, but there’s a number of potential roadblocks that aren’t known to be clear.

62

Zamfir 04.26.19 at 2:24 pm

@alex, Wikipedia has a page under “carbon dioxide removal”

The core chemical trick, is that you do not have to return the carbon to a hydrocarbon. It can be another carbon-containing solid, or you can literally pump gaseous CO2 in underground reservoirs. Former (non-fracked) natural gas reservoirs are gas-tight, almost by definition

63

Bernard D Yomtov 04.26.19 at 7:57 pm

Faustusnotes@31

I find the idea that individual consumption doesn’t matter so we shouldn’t worry about it, and work on structural change, dubious.

True, being careful about turning off the lights isn’t going to help much. But exactly how much structural change is one person going to bring about? You can support political action, write articles, vote, whatever, but your impact as an individual is going to be vanishingly small, just like the impact of turning out the bathroom light.

And political action has its own complexities. Some strategies are self-defeating, some won’t accomplish anything, some fail while, let’s note, possibly creating emissions. How are you getting to that rally or convention?

I’m not saying it’s wrong to do that, just that your comparison of consumption decisions to political action is not a fair one.

64

engels 04.27.19 at 1:08 am

Maybe a city thatâ€™s literally sinking into the sea under the pressure of mass tourism isnâ€™t the best place for an ethics conference…
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/23/venice-tempers-boil-over-tourist-high-season

65

faustusnotes 04.27.19 at 2:34 am

reason, actually you’re wrong, my examples are very good examples. Let us consider your objections.

1) (Farming). I raised this example based on reading a few years ago about critiques of the concept of “Food Miles”, which help you to judge how much transportation (and thus carbon) was used in bringing your food to table. A full accounting of carbon should include not just the food miles but also the deforestation and carbon use in food production, and after you do a full accounting, it’s better that we buy from farmers in low-income countries. Also, from a human welfare point of view it’s better that a farmer in a Low- or middle-income country (LMIC) deforests a bit and gets paid a decent price for their produce and a farmer in a high income country is driven off the market and forced to re-wild their land. This has multiple ecological benefits and human welfare benefits. Obviously there is a policy framework where the LMIC can do too much deforestation but that is a policy decision, not one that you or I can control through our choice of food. It’s good that we buy food from a Brazilian farmer; it’s bad if the Brazilian government allows that farmer to steal land from Indigenous people. We can’t control much of that process.

2) Plastic waste is unrelated to resource use, but plastic waste is an absolutely perfect example of how our “choices” are meaningless in the face of social and political context. Plastic waste is much much worse in LMICs (especially low-income countries) which lack water treatment, waste disposal and recycling systems. Those are also the countries where many residents have to make crucial consumption decisions that are heavily affected by the resource-intensity of the products they buy (i.e. they can’t afford decent eco bags). Your “choice” not to use plastic is heavily dependent on you having access to clean water and being able to afford energy-intensive products. A person in a LMIC makes the “choice” to throw their plastic on the ground because they don’t have access to a waste disposal system, and their consumption decisions are heavily constrained. You don’t make any “choice” about whether to use a PET bottle in the absence of a waste disposal system and water treatment system. You do what you need to do.

PET bottles and reusable bottles are also a really good example of this. I “choose” to reuse PET bottles for about 5 days and then throw them away because my country (Japan) runs local PET bottle recycling system, and I can “choose” to put clean water in my bottle from the tap whenever and wherever I want. I could buy an expensive reusable bottle that would probably contain the equivalent resources of about 500 PET bottles (depending on how much metal is in the lid); I would need to use this for about 2500 days to break even on resource use. That’s about 7 years. I have to use no PET bottles for that 7 years in order for that thing to break even. Can’t lose it or break it, can’t buy another one, just use the same one. Is this a sensible decision? Of course my PET bottle is part of a plastic chain (it’s probably down-cycled from someone’s discarded reusable plastic object!) so it’s a closed system. But that reusable bottle probably embodies freshly-imported plastic that will then eventually be recycled.

Do you see the problem here? None of my decisions about plastic waste have any meaning outside the context of the political and cultural systems they’re embedded in. When people ask you to “choose” some pointless bullshit end-use “choice” to help the environment they’re usually trying to get you to avoid changing the system that’s doing the damage in the first place.

So to repeat, I’m not going to be assiduous about turning off my (low-watt!) bathroom light while some dickhead downtown is burning energy all night long to illuminate their office block. I want the entire system to be reformed so that we have access to unlimited clean energy (something that is within our reach) so that we can burn as much as we want as often as we want. And until that happens I want the system reformed so that big energy emitters are forced to make difficult choices.

A final point: I come from a very poor family and was poor for much of my 20s, and vegan until my mid-30s. I had a very low carbon footprint for the first 2/3 of my life, during which time I was actively trying to raise awareness of and push the importance of action against climate change. But a bunch of dickheads (including a wide array of dickheads in the left at that time – don’t even get me started on the forestry unions!) opposed all forms of environmentalism as consumerist wank. Now I can finally afford to fly, and these arseholes who ignored me for years are waking up and realizing we need to take radical action that wouldn’t have to be radical if they had listened to me 20 years ago. And now their solution is to tell me to fly less? After they spent their 20s wintering in Banff and complaining about hippies? No, they can stick that bullshit where the sun doesn’t shine. Find a systemic solution to a structural problem, or get off the pot!

[Insert here the obligatory reminder that it was a union in the resource sector that probably sank Mark Latham’s election campaign, thus ensuring that we had no chance to address climate change in the early 2000s, and it was the resource unions in the 1990s that stopped Labor conference from making realistic decisions about early action on climate change and land rights. The anti-environmentalist left, which includes much of the communist and socialist movement, have a lot to answer for in their response to climate change].

66

faustusnotes 04.27.19 at 3:34 am

Also while I am sympathetic to Moz of Yarallumla’s cynicism about offsets, there’s no reason they couldn’t (theoretically) be effective and improve human welfare. Offsets that contribute to a fund to get farmers in high-income countries to retire early and rewild their land would be short- and long-term carbon negative; a fund that installed rooftop solar and storage in the houses of low-income black people in the American south, along rainwater tanks and remediation of their septic systems, would be long-term carbon negative and have huge health benefits; a fund to insulate low-income homes on the US East Coast so that they have lower heating bills and lower carbon emissions, particularly in areas that don’t get super hot in summer, would be a massive benefit to those people. You’d see even larger welfare benefits (but much smaller carbon offsets) if you did the same solar/storage installations in LMICs. It’s possible to design offset programs that don’t just pay people to not do something they weren’t going to do; but again this requires collective action and political reform, not individual choices!

67

John Quiggin 04.27.19 at 3:50 am

Alex SL “Carbon capture” means two different things. One is capturing CO2 from the chimneys of coal-fired power stations and other industrial emitters. This is pretty much a dead duck – the cost of retrofitting is too high, and new power stations with carbon capture are totally uneconomic.

The other is largely hypothetical at this point. After decarbonizing the energy supply and reducing emissions to (near) zero, we could try to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The energy used would be carbon-free, so no problem there. But that’s a long way off. Here’s a link from 2014 – I don’t think much has changed since then.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/531346/can-sucking-co2-out-of-the-atmosphere-really-work/

68

faustusnotes 04.27.19 at 4:07 am

I have read a few articles now (can’t recall where) which point out that carbon capture needs to be treated as a risk as well as (or instead of) just a carbon sink. Trees can burn (and in a warming world, increasingly so) and underground storage could release sudden huge amounts of carbon if things go wrong. Someone above said that ex- gas fields are “by definition” carbon tight – but if so how are they ex-gas fields? There is obviously some risk here. Obviously it’s good to store carbon now since we need to get it out of the atmosphere but we need to bear in mind this risk.

There are some storage techniques that are cheap and carbon negative in the short and long term. A moratorium on fishing is the absolute best example of this: not only do we get the entire polluting fishing fleet to stop, which reduces emissions, but we also allow the ocean to restore its fauna, which will lead to carbon sequestration and the restoration of a highly damaged part of the carbon cycle. The moratorium on whaling had big effects in this regard – whales are an entire ecosystem by themselves and support a large amount of carbon sequestration. Killing off the farmed salmon industry would lead to reduced harvesting of feeder fish, which are a huge carbon sink. The great thing about ocean carbon is it sinks several thousand metres down when it dies, and is not released into the atmosphere.

You can do your bit to kill the fishing industry by not eating fish, but a political decision to put a ban on fishing would be much more effective. You can also contribute financially to the Sea Shepherds, who do excellent work helping west African governments protect their fishing zones from predatory international fleets, protecting fish stocks and giving priority to low-carbon low-intensity local fishing fleets, with obvious benefits to local human rights and welfare. It’s my personal view (not backed up by numbers) that ending fishing would have a huge impact on many aspects of the coming environmental catastrophe.

69

John Quiggin 04.27.19 at 6:03 am

If there is a comprehensive emissions permits scheme in place, such that the volume of permits is consistent with climate stabilization at a safe level, then from a consequentialist perspective, I don’t think there is any moral issue associated with CO2 emissions other than the general issues that arise from inequality.

If I choose to spend my income on CO2 emissions that will push up the price faced by everyone else, including poor people. But that’s just as true if I spend my income on coffee. The individually moral action is not to refrain from particular items of consumption but to give money to poorer people. As quite a few commentators have said already, action to redistribute (and predistribute) income generally is likely be more effective than individual transfers.

Of course, the “ifs” in the first para are big ones. If there are no effective limits on aggregate emissions, then reducing your own is a moral imperative.

70

Reason 04.27.19 at 11:15 am

John Quiggin enforced redistribution is not only more effective than voluntary redistribution, it more importantly does not involve evolutionary perversity, i.e. it doesn’t select for selfishness. I think this is more important. I thought economists caref about incentives? =)

71

Barry 04.27.19 at 11:53 am

faustusnotes: “Someone above said that ex- gas fields are â€œby definitionâ€ carbon tight â€“ but if so how are they ex-gas fields?”

I have a feeling that releasing the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old pressure from those rock formations affects the gas-tightness, but I am not a geologist.

72

Omega Centauri 04.27.19 at 9:06 pm

Barry @71. The gas was released (from he gas field), because someone drilled holes into the formation. No old wells are capped, but the long term fate of those caps, which I think are cement pumped into the drill hole, may not be well known. If we plan to sequester the stuff for millenia, then those issues matter.

Coal beds are also great for holding on to stuff like CO2 and methane, but we’ve probably mined the ones that are easy to get to.

Of course we could inject liquid CO2 into ocean trenches. The circulation time for the bottom waters is something like a thousand years, and if our CO2 was well mixed into the ocean (and not concentrated in near surface waters) the oceans can actually hold many times more than the atmosphere. But, I don’t think that is going to happen.

73

Moz of Yarramulla 04.27.19 at 9:20 pm

Q@69:

If there are no effective limits on aggregate emissions, then reducing your own is a moral imperative.

And since “effective limits on aggregate emissions” is still a theoretical concept, we’re in the latter position. Likewise faustusnotes “there’s no reason in theory {offsets} couldn’t be effective”… well, no. But in practice the time taken to discover effective offsets then monitor them to make sure they remain effective is such that it’s almost more effective (and less risky) to simply buy the densest timber you can and pile it up under your house.

FWIW I do buy and destroy offsets every year, largely because it’s ludicrously cheap to do so. Even buying more expensive ones it’s less than 10% of what I donate to anti-warming activists. Meanwhile the “serious political question” in the current Australian election is whether we should subsidise a massive new thermal coal mine.

74

Chris Bertram 04.28.19 at 7:32 am

Four points in response to @faustusnotes

1. For any of our actions there is uncertainty about whether they will bring about their intended goals. For some reason, people get hyper-sceptical about things like charity donations or environmental choices but not so much about their regular consumer decisions which regularly fail to bring them happiness.

2. The claim that individual action is pointless and the solution is at the state/systemic level is exactly replicated at the state/international level: “anything we do will be an ineffective pointless sacrifice unless the whole world acts. The whole world is not acting, so we can do as we like.” This gets us to stalemate, and ultimately to ecocide.

3. Action at the state level typically takes the form of taxes, subsidies and prohibitions. Faced with these, lots of people push back: “why should I pay more for petrol when those bastards over there are the real problem” (cf Gilets Jaunes).

4. Effective action on climate change would require sacrifices in standards of living or at least big lifestyle changes. People advocating effective action at state/systemic level gain or lose credibility in the propaganda war to the extent to which they show now that they’re willing to make those changes. Otherwise, it is “the hypocritical elites trying to impose stuff on us”.

75

Moz of Yarramulla 04.28.19 at 8:21 am

4. Effective action on climate change would require sacrifices in standards of living or at least big lifestyle changes.

Right now at a personal level lifestyle changes are relatively easy because there’s not much demand. There’s a lot of “but what if everyone did it” to be had, and the answer is “yes, it would cost more money but dramatically fewer lives”.

People advocating effective action at state/systemic level gain or lose credibility in the propaganda war to the extent to which they show now that theyâ€™re willing to make those changes.

The catch-22 is that if they make those changes they’re obviously crackpots living on the fringes of society and can’t be taken seriously.

I had this with my boss the other day, he keeps trying to appear likeable and that generally involves talking about the possibility of buying an electric car. He kept coming back to “well obviously *your* situation is different”… yes, it’s different in that I say “owning a car is not an option, how can I arrange my life” where his baseline is “I will buy a new luxury car every 3-4 years, spend a month on a cruise ship every year, and travel to China, the US and EU every year … what can I do to look green without putting ugly solar panels on my roof?” He’s extremely resistant to any lifestyle change at all. But he’s willing to talk about buying an electric car (but not to actually buy one… he bought an Audi A8 after the Tesla S was available here, and the Tesla is cheaper).

76

Dipper 04.28.19 at 8:56 am

@ Chris Bertram

…. yet despite all this, one nation has succeeded in significantly reducing emissions whilst simultaneously achieving economic growth above its nearest neighbours. That nation being, of course, The United Kingdom.

As for actual numbers and actual plans, the best guide to a viable prosperous green future remains, as always, Michael Liebriech

77

nastywoman 04.28.19 at 9:30 am

@74
AND ”the claim that individual action is pointless and the solution is at the state/systemic level” is THE favourite argument of US Conservatives by always sillily complaining:

”IF China doesn’t do it too – it’s ALL pointless…”

AND then even worst:
IF they (”China and all these Others”) got all of these economical advantages by NOT doing anything – WE can’t do anything at all – as long as they don’t do anything.

AND I always wondered – as there are ALL these GREAT nations in the world -(I probably should not name) where there are all these individual citizens – who try really REALLY hard to save our environment –
WHY don’t ”Conservatives” and especially ”US Conservative” follow ”the good peoples” example?!

is exactly replicated at the state/international level: â€œanything we do will be an ineffective pointless sacrifice unless the whole world acts. The whole world is not acting, so we can do as we like.â€ This gets us to stalemate, and ultimately to ecocide.

78

Chris Bertram 04.28.19 at 12:31 pm

Nice try, @Dipper, but the picture changes considerably once we take into account the emissions embodied in imports to the UK.

79

faustusnotes 04.28.19 at 1:03 pm

Chris Bertram, your response is depressingly nihilistic, offers no solutions and treats people’s political positions as unchangeable natural laws.

First of all, I should note that while you are advocating for making personal choices in the face of political intransigence, you yourself are not vegan and fly regularly, so you’re not practising what you preach. Which of reasons 1-4 do you offer for this failing? If you think personal actions have a role to play then you do have to justify your personal decision not to take these actions.

Which leads to the dismissal of all your points. You’re not special: whatever reasons you have for continuing to eat meat, others have too. Why should they be expected to give it up when you don’t? But political and systemic changes prevent this nihilistic response: questions like “why should I have to give up meat? I’m special!” become meaningless if the state simply bans meat. The gilets jaunes (aka French alt-right) can whine on as much as they want, they can burn tyres and block roads and generally be idiots to their heart’s content, but if the state doesn’t relent their petty grievances are irrelevant. In the face of an extinction-level crisis, which do you think is a more powerful argument for action the state mandating it, or individuals being convinced to give up meat for the common good?

It’s true as you say in point 3) that the arguments of individuals are replicated at the level of states, but those arguments would a) lose their force and b) lose their relevance if the US and China acted. It wouldn’t matter if Lichtenstein or Ghana decided to be nihilistic, if the US would just pull their finger out. But in 1992, during the Kyoto process, the US refused to allow the developing world any exceptions, and so here we are. As a result of that it’s true: it really doesn’t matter what Australia does, if the US doesn’t act we’re screwed anyway. But look at the behavior of the US “left” on this blog as an example of what a destructive and ecocidal force the US is. Why should I give up my occasional holiday flights in favour of a cause that the US doesn’t even believe is real, when the US is so far gone on this issue that the leftists who are supposed to care about shit like this refuse to get their act together long enough to take it seriously? My actions are meaningless while supposed leftists like Glenn Greenwald are going on fox news to defend fascism and environmental delay. (And remember unlike most people on this blog – and I would guess I can include you and John Quiggin in this list – I spent 15 years acting on my principles, eschewing meat and international or even domestic air travel, partly through poverty and partly through political principles, but now find myself faced with leftists who advocate everyone else sacrifice while they continue to eat meat).

Finally regarding your point 4), refusing to do something because your political leaders are hypocrites is not a natural law. See e.g. the unflinching support evangelicals offer Trump, or socialists offer millionaire Bernie. The decision to elevate someone else’s hypocrisy to the level of a guiding principle is a personal and political decision made for selfish reasons, and we don’t have to change our behavior to accomodate other people’s dishonesty or disingenuousness. Yes Al Gore is fat and he flies business class to conferences but the decision to not vote for a party that supports a carbon tax because of that is your personal decision, not a law of nature, and in fact “he’s a hypocrite” is a petty excuse, not a reason, and if Al Gore were a skinny hippy who took Amtrak to conferences the people who don’t want to listen to him because it’s inconvenient would surely find some other reason.

It’s a really simple fact: We face an extinction-level crisis. We’re not going to get out of it by making atomized personal consumption decisions, or supporting pissy half-measures involving weak carbon prices or some other boring Matthew Yglesias style technocratic solution, and we’re not going to get out of it by debating the ecocidists as if they were honest interlocutors who just need to be convinced we’re serious about the issue. That’s not how this is going to go down, and I think you know that.

80

Chris Bertram 04.28.19 at 1:15 pm

@faustusnotes

Chris Bertram, your response is depressingly nihilistic, offers no solutions and treats peopleâ€™s political positions as unchangeable natural laws.

* I’m not nihilistic.
* I didn’t offer solutions, I merely pushed back against the idea that personal changes have no part to play in them.
* I didn’t say anything that warrants the conclusion about “unchangeable natural laws”.

The one thing I do accept is that I haven’t done enough to put principle into practice.

81

Dipper 04.28.19 at 1:27 pm

@ Chris Bertram “but the picture changes considerably once we take into account the emissions embodied in imports to the UK.”

So what? Is there a policy recommendation here? Does that make the UK’s achievements irrelevant or meaningless?

Perhaps the UK government could tax imports based on carbon footprint. Oh hang on, we are still in the EU, so cannot do that.

82

Chris Bertram 04.28.19 at 2:09 pm

@Dipper “the UK’s achievements”. ROTFL. It is largely a side-effect of deindustrialization rather than the consequence of policies adopted to reduce emissions. And with deindustrialization comes the importation of those goods that are now manufactured elsewhere (with their CO2 emissions).

83

Dipper 04.28.19 at 3:45 pm

@ Chris Bertram – LMAO.

Presumably you think Extinction Rebellions protest is a total waste of time. Either they should be supergluing themselves to the Chinese or Indian embassies in protest at their increasing carbon emissions, or else catching the train to Brussels and supergluing themselves to the Commission or Parliament in protest at the EU’s failure to tax imports on the basis of their carbon emissions.

And presumably you would support leaving the EU so the UK can impose carbon tariffs on imports?

84

steven t johnson 04.28.19 at 4:24 pm

Why does faustusnotes think Glenn Greenwald is a leftist? Snowden isn’t and surely he picked Greenwald because he was simpatico. Didn’t anybody watch Oliver Stone’s movie?

“1. For any of our actions there is uncertainty about whether they will bring about their intended goals. For some reason, people get hyper-sceptical about things like charity donations or environmental choices but not so much about their regular consumer decisions which regularly fail to bring them happiness.”

People are more objective about something they haven’t invested their personal hopes in, not “hyper-sceptical.” They long term effects of pervasive consumerism paid for by interested parties seems to me to explain fairly well why so many are less realistic about their consumption bringing them happiness. Material deprivation doesn’t bring happiness either, something this ignores. The only point I can get here is people are stupid?

“2. The claim that individual action is pointless and the solution is at the state/systemic level is exactly replicated at the state/international level: ‘anything we do will be an ineffective pointless sacrifice unless the whole world acts. The whole world is not acting, so we can do as we like.’ This gets us to stalemate, and ultimately to ecocide.”

There is no “state/international level.” There are states operating as sovereign powers.
State action is more effective than individual action, contrary to the implication here. The notion that the free rider problem will be solved by individuals is absurd. There is an implication that individual nations can’t solve the free rider problem either. The real solution is to create a genuine international level, but the notion that anybody at Crooked Timber would endorse a limited world government strikes me as tact. The only point here is that it’s the people’s fault?

“3. Action at the state level typically takes the form of taxes, subsidies and prohibitions. Faced with these, lots of people push back: ‘why should I pay more for petrol when those bastards over there are the real problem’ (cf Gilets Jaunes).”

Action at the world level would include planning a new world transport system, would include planning for new cities as sea levels rise, include planning for mass reforestation, include planning for closing down ecologically insane things like Los Angeles, and so forth in a multitude of ways I personally can’t imagine. It is unimaginable that anyone here at CT would favor any action of this kind, ever. The only point here is people are greedy?

“4. Effective action on climate change would require sacrifices in standards of living or at least big lifestyle changes. People advocating effective action at state/systemic level gain or lose credibility in the propaganda war to the extent to which they show now that theyâ€™re willing to make those changes. Otherwise, it is ‘the hypocritical elites trying to impose stuff on us’.”

The idea that the transport system or city planning or testing of geoengineering projects or, or, or, or on and on are “lifestyle” choices strikes me as incredible. John Quiggin’s new book has done well in modernizing the principle that the consumer is king! The insistence that restricting consumption will work if the rulers (who here is in that group?!) if, noblesse oblige, they set the tone also strikes me as incredible. And the notion that veganism is the only moral choice, even for children, regardless of variation in their bodies and minds, regardless of whether the (unknown!) nutritional requirements of a healthy vegan diet (if there is one?) can be met for the whole of humanity strikes me as not just incredible, but callous. The only real point here is that there are too damn many people?

But contra faustusnotes, none of this seems “nihilistic” to me. It just seems like standard contempt for humanity.

85

Harry 04.28.19 at 5:27 pm

“I had this with my boss the other day, he keeps trying to appear likeable and that generally involves talking about the possibility of buying an electric car.”

In isolation this sentence looks like the plot of a very uncomfortable episode of the Office.

86

nastywoman 04.28.19 at 7:37 pm

@
”My actions are meaningless while supposed leftists like Glenn Greenwald are going on fox news to defend fascism and environmental delay”.

That’s… weird?

My actions suddenly became so much more meaningful ”when supposed leftists like Glenn Greenwald where going on fox news to defend fascism and environmental delay”.

87

hix 04.28.19 at 7:45 pm

” he bought an Audi A8 after the Tesla S was available here, and the Tesla is cheaper).”
If his choices are an A8 or an electric monstrosity with 100kw/h battery that weights more than 2 tonnes, the environment is probably slightly better off with the A8. Both the A8 and the possible luxury electric car are in your face im richer than you status consumption that have no particular utility for the buyer beyond saying im richer than you. For everyone else, a big ugly thing needs more space on the road or in parking spots, is more dangerous in accidents, makes more noise, causes more fine dost emissions etc…

88

Omega Centauri 04.28.19 at 9:35 pm

hix @84.
That Tesla S will probably last a million miles, and it doesn’t directly use oil -although tires are made of rubber, and the road it drives on is made of asphalt. Still its advancing the EV revolution, and rewarding the corporate entities that are leading it, rather than the dinosaurs whose goal is to milk the ICE cash cow for as long as possible.

Closer to home my EV has absorbed almost 40MWhours off the California grid this weekend. During sunny cool weekends when hydro is running flatout because of spring runoff, California has so much solar plus hydro that there is a threat of curtailment that having a fleet of hungry EVs is a real plus for renewables.

89

hix 04.29.19 at 4:10 am

The million miles are optimistic and rely on the car actually being needed to drive a lot, not just to brag. Normal electric cars made by companies that value production quality – at least a lot more than Tesla, which is everyone else- have an even better chance to last long. In the meantime, by not carrying arround a 100kwh battery in an oversized monstrosity, they use arround 30% less electrcity. Thats still important, because the real life grids we have to deal with now and for the forseable future involve lots of dirty energy (marginal cases like Norway aside) – just like the grid used to build those Tesla batteries.

90

nastywoman 04.29.19 at 6:08 am

@What is this?
”There is no â€œstate/international level. There are states operating as sovereign powers”.

But, but, but isn’t there this ”complaints of Brexiters” -(and silly US Trumpists) – that we’re all are ruled by EU bureaucrats -(or the UN? – or ”a world government)

And so – perhaps… yes?
”State action is more effective than individual action” – which is (concerning fighting climate change) a ”good thing” –
Right?
And about ”the notion that the free rider problem will be solved by individuals is absurd”.
In the short time of my life all kind of ”free rider problems” had been solved by ”individuals” getting together -(even on ”international” or ”state levels”) and solved ”free rider problems” all the time?

So – what is… ”this”?

91

Moz of Yarramulla 04.29.19 at 7:09 am

One thing that does scare me is the idea that “we must each halve our emissions”… for those of us at the low end of the existing spectrum that’s a real challenge. Sure, I can stop eating mango and anything else that’s trucked across Australia, and stop buying new electronics when the old ones stop working, but that’s the sort of saving I’m looking at, and there’s not a lot of them available.

By comparison, many of the people I know could get the same percentage saving just by holidaying inside Australia this year rather than flying literally around the world.

92

nastywoman 04.29.19 at 7:32 am

– and it is truly… strange? –
as we could recall – that Ingrid Robeyns once posted about the example of a (”very individualistic”) Swedish teenager – who turned ”individualistic action” into very meaningful ”internationalist action” and… still?

Whassup – dudes?

93

Plucky Underdog 04.29.19 at 8:22 am

Omega,

> my EV has absorbed almost 40MWhours off
> the California grid this weekend.

Check your orders of magnitude for credibility before posting, dude

94

Matt 04.29.19 at 4:07 pm

Nice try, @Dipper, but the picture changes considerably once we take into account the emissions embodied in imports to the UK.

As I remarked on the Pinker thread, Iâ€™m skeptical of framings that put the focus on consumers instead of producers. â€œItâ€™s not Georgia Powerâ€™s fault that they emit so much carbon dioxide â€” theyâ€™re just supplying the inexpensive energy desired by consumers.â€ I donâ€™t buy it. And I donâ€™t buy it any more when weâ€™re talking about Chinese businesses than when weâ€™re talking about businesses in the UK or US.

There would ideally be coordinated international action to cut emissions year over year. Barring that, nations willing to lead on climate action should impose strong domestic requirements and impose high tariffs on imports that don’t demonstrate similar alignment with climate goals via a transparent and auditable supply chain.

Maybe that’s all you mean: not relieving foreign manufacturers of responsibility for emissions embodied in UK imports. Just highlighting that domestic emissions measures are easily gamed if badly behaved industries can relocate to places with weak environmental standards while retaining access to the same distribution channels.

Comments on this entry are closed.