Carbon Offsets, Contract, and Complicity

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5 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    While this post raises a lot of issues, I’ll address just one of them (the collective action problem; and reiterating the point here) with a comment I made to a related post by Roger Alford at Opinio Juris not long ago about calculating our carbon footprints and purchasing carbon offsets

    First, let me say that without calculating my “carbon footprint” I’m sure it’s pretty low (i.e., well below average) if only because I’ve never flown in a plane and rarely drive more than a mile or two several days a week (and then in either one of two vehicles over 30 years old, as I ride my bike to school, weather permitting). And we recycle as many products as possible (our city has an excellent recycling program that makes this quite easy), are vegetarians, and are not enamored by every new technological device or gadget. I well realize not everyone can or wants to do this. And yet I think our consumptive habits, in the end, make little difference in the great scheme of things (if only because I think the prospects of a significant number of people voluntarily changing such habits are rather dim; which leaves the possibility that circumstances may be such [as during conditions of war, for instance] that people could be compelled to drastically change their conspicuously consumptive ways). Why? Consider the following from Robert E. Goodin in his provocative book, Green Political Theory (1992):

    “Collective action can make a real difference to the state of the world, in a way individual action cannot. Carrying the green cause to electoral triumph might affect the fate of the earth; deciding to live a thoroughly green lifestyle oneself most definitely will not. As Kirkpatrick Sale writes [in 1990!], ‘What I find truly pernicious about such [lifestyle] solutions is that they get people thinking they are actually making a difference and doing their part to halt the destruction of the earth: “There, I’ve taken all the bottles to the recycling center and used my string bag at the grocery store; I guess that will take care of global warming.” It is the kind of thing that diverts people from the hard truths and hard choices and hard actions, from the recognition that they have to take on the larger forces of society–corporate and governmental–where true power, and true destructiveness lie.’

    The difference between those who would emphasize personal over political actions and those who would adopt the opposite emphasis can therefore be recast in the following terms. Those emphasizing personal actions are inclined to accord substantial weight to the demonstrated willingness of a person to bear sacrifices, even probably gratuitous ones, for the sake of the cause. Those emphasizing political actions are inclined to accord substantial weight to the outcomes that the action will produce and to encourage sacrifice only if the sacrifice has some hope of making a material difference to the outcome.

    Some greens emphasize the ecological equivalent of ‘clean hands’ (personal actions, appropriate lifestyles and suchlike) at the expense of political action that might carry far greater ecological consequences. Those who do, though, are in effect giving considerations of [green] agency priority over considerations of [green] value and consequences. That, I think, is an error.” [notes ommitted]

    So, if you really care about global warming….

  2. “For starters, it has a dot-com domain name rather than a dot-org domain name, which is a good sign”.”

    That was a joke, right?

  3. bruce says:

    more enviro-nonsense from the global warming caused by America crowd.can anyone say piltown man?

  4. Wow. A nice exchange — and I’m sorry to have seen it so late. I think both Nate and Patrick make excellent points. In my own life and work, I’ve always been torn between what Goodin has argued and what real politicians and political strategists know: if one is to make an effective case that everyone should obey some particular version of the Golden Rule, then that messenger must be the first, or at least among the first, to obey it him or herself. Jiggering the rule to make compliance easier for some than for others is always fodder for someone else looking to “debunk.”

    Carbon markets are off the silliness charts so long as forebearance by some just enables to others (whether because the commodity is globally priced or because the “allowances” are mandatory for no one) to emit GHGs. But admitting that is hardly the same as saying that these first efforts are entirely misguided. However we eventually (supposing, hopefully, that we do eventually) devise a way to cap and lower GHG emissions globally, if the future is anything like the past, the broad scale structure that emerges will be a direct outgrowth or piecing together of smaller scale pioneers. And most of them will have been doing whatever they were doing just to set a good example.