David Roberts @drvox Seattleite transplanted from Tennessee; now blogging for vox.com/ about energy politics. Climate hawk, deficit dove. Not a doctor. Feb. 21, 2019 3 min read

I don't get the logic of this @kdrum post at all. Why on earth, if I'm convinced by the science of climate change, would I set about making a bunch of symbolic personal sacrifices that wouldn't change anything?  https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2019/02/do-you-believe-in-climate-change-really/ 

One more thought on this: the notion that voluntary individual behavior is a meaningful way to address climate change is a hangover of the fact that climate change entered the political sphere via "environmentalism."

Environmentalism has always been a weird amalgam. On one hand it recommends structural/policy reforms. On the other hand it's always contained a strong strain of quasi-spiritual, in-touch-with-nature, leave-no-trace personal virtue. It's both a reform program & a "lifestyle."

It's been a disaster for climate change to be viewed through that same lens. It causes confusion on both ends -- the nature of policy needed & the role of personal virtue.

Climate change is not an "environmental problem." It's far deeper than that. Solutions require basic changes in technology, law, and infrastructure, none of which is affected by individual behavior. I can't build a subway or pass a carbon tax or string transmission lines.

Voluntary personal choices matter ONLY to the extent they raise the probability of policy/structural changes. If they don't, then you're not doing a little good on climate, you're doing, effectively, none. There are lots of reasons to live a clean life, but climate ain't one.

As for the dopey charge of "hypocrisy," no. Hypocrisy is expecting others to live by principles you refuse to live by. I'm not asking other people to make meaningless personal sacrifices! I'm asking them to advocate for changing policy (and to abide by the law thus changed).

As for the power of symbolism, I don't even like the symbolism of sacrifice! If we put the policy & technology in place, living a low-carbon life will be BETTER. Healthier. More fun, more sociable. The dreary symbolism of sackcloth & ashes works *against* climate momentum.

Right now, I fly & eat meat. I also advocate for policies that would make flying & meat eating meat much more expensive (i.e., more reflective of their true social costs). If such policies pass, I will fly less & eat less meat. So will everybody else! Voi la, no hypocrisy.

Similarly, I do not now voluntarily send the gov't more than my tax bill. We would rightly view advocating for that as a goofy distraction. What I want is for the feds to raise taxes, including on me. If they do, I will happily send more!

Anyway, like I said, live however you want, but I just don't agree that climate hawks should be highlighting a connection between climate solutions & pain-in-the-ass voluntary sacrifices. If fact they ought to be doing the opposite!

It's a collective action problem. We figure out how to take collective action or we are well & truly fucked. Personal asceticism is largely irrelevant. </fin>, probably

Two points I wanted to add to this thread. First, I'm not opposed to sustainable living. There are tons and tons of reasons -- both personal & social -- to ride bikes more, recycle, buy an electric car, or put solar panels on your house.

You'll improve your physical and psychological health. You'll reduce local air & water pollutants. You'll produce less waste. You'll set a good example. These are all great reasons! It's just that climate change isn't one of them. It's a different kind of thing.

Second, a 2017 study found: "Our results show that individuals with high pro-environmental self-identity intend to behave in an ecologically responsible way, but they typically emphasize actions that have relatively small ecological benefits.”

In other words, the consumers most likely to see themselves as "green" are more likely, on average, to be a) wealthy and b) engaged in feel-good activities that don't have much impact. It is ultimately wealth, not self-identity, that predicts emissions.

Similarly, a 2016 study found that “environmental self-identity did not predict overall energy use or carbon footprint.” The people who think they are "walking the walk" are, to put it bluntly, fooling themselves. It is mostly a signaling game among the affluent & educated.

I wrote about both studies here, the last time I went through this argument (there are no new arguments):  https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/12/1/16718844/green-consumers-climate-change 

You can follow @drvox.


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