In the course of an unrelated post, Tim Lambert makes a point dear to my heart. Like so:
And what of environmental activist-author Dr Tim Flannery, who believes climate change to be "the greatest threat facing humanity", yet who is able to put aside his worries about human-driven ecological destruction long enough to conduct a 20-city US tour promoting his latest book about climate change?
I used a calculator linked from Flannery’s site and found that Flannery’s tour would release about 6,000 kg of CO2. Flannery says that we’ll have to reduce our emissions of CO2 by about 70% to stabilize the climate. That’s 17,000,000,000,000 kg less CO2 per year. This is somewhat more than 6,000, so if Flannery did not go on the trip it would not solve the global warming problem. If Flannery on his tour is able to persuade a few people to reduce their emissions the reduction will be much more than 6,000 kg.
Lambert is more concise and artful than me, as usual, but I keep making the same basic point: The constant charge of "hypocrisy" against anyone who a) advocates against global warming and b) contributes to it by driving/flying/owning a house/having a child/whatever is dumb. It’s a game best left to the rightwingers and climate contrarians who so fervently love it.
The collection of public figures — scientists, celebrities, environmentalists — publicly advocating for action on global warming is, in relative terms, tiny. A generous estimate would put it in the thousands. There are, in contrast, billions of people driving/flying/owning a house/having a child/whatever. If every single person who spoke out publicly on climate change stopped driving/flying/owning a house/having a child/whatever, it would make no appreciable difference on the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
It would, however, massively curtail those folks’ ability to spread the word and create change. Is that what we want?
I won’t say that the personal habits of environmentalists have no symbolic value, but it’s only a little bit — and it’s meaningless in substantive terms. It’s a weapon used to bludgeon socially and environmentally concerned public figures into silence. The last thing greens should do is join in.
(This is also relevant to George Monbiot’s latest, "Flying Is Dying." He’s right, of course, about this:
In researching my book about how we might achieve a 90 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2030, I have been discovering, greatly to my surprise, that every other source of global warming can be reduced or replaced to that degree without a serious reduction in our freedoms. But there is no means of sustaining long-distance, high-speed travel.
But I think he’s also right about this:
Flying kills. We all know it, and we all do it. And we won’t stop doing it until the government reverses its policy and starts closing the runways.
It would be nice if we could convince the affluent to stop flying for moral reasons. But I find that extraordinarily unlikely. What has hope of working is a change in the incentive structure, both for airlines and their customers: systemic change. If enviros opted out of flying unilaterally, they would simply surrender effectiveness for negligible tangible benefits.
(See also Tim Haab on this subject.)