Hypocrites, climate change, tragedies and solutions

I’ve just had an amazing morning on twitter. I woke up to a tweet from someone basically saying that because I don’t pay the annual TV licence fee in the UK then I probably don’t have the right to complain about their service. So I jovially replied that I’ll be back in the UK come October and able to pay my £140 fee then. This turned out to be a mistake because it led to accusations of hypocrisy for my greenhouse gas emitting flights.

Why does a desire to do something effective to mitigate climate change mean that you must live your life as some kind of saint? Yes, airplanes emit greenhouse gases and yes I want to reduce my carbon footprint but one person not flying is not going to solve the problem. This is a tragedy of the commons and it requires collective solutions.

I have also never argued that we must return our lives to pre-industrial times. What I want is a carbon-free economy. Why is this so difficult? I have written many blog posts about my admiration for Victorian engineering and innovation and how appreciative I was of the infrastructure they built which people get to enjoy today. I do realise that if it wasn’t for the Victorians we might not have the climate change problem at all but I think most of us value what they have given us and they did not know how hungry for fossil fuels we would become.

What will the people 150 years hence think of us if we dump this problem on their doorstep? Or worse, what would the Victorians think of our short-sightedness? It’s not as though we don’t have options available. We already have plenty of alternatives for electricity generation: wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear and hydro. Why do we continue to sideline these options? I sometimes call myself a carbon-free energy whore in that I will accept any non-empty subset of these alternatives. The only one I want sidelined is fossil fuels and even then I’m open to Miles Allen’s suggestion to give fossil fuel companies the freedom to burn provided they suck up every last drop of carbon they emit. I find the arguments against some or all of these alternatives tiresome and lacking in oomph.

As for flying, I don’t know what the solution is. I really dislike flying and would be happy never to make another long-haul flight again but that would mean never seeing my family. What I would like is for the public sector and the private sector to work together to find a solution rather than bickering over whether there is a problem. So much of the Victorian architecture I love was built by the private sector and by people who believed in the free market. Where are these innovators today?

19 responses to “Hypocrites, climate change, tragedies and solutions”

  1. I flew around the World for my research and I don’t feel guilty about it at all. Firstly, from September 1999 to November 2012, I stepped on board a total of 8 flights. Secondly, when carbon capture and storage takes off, I will (hopefully) be involved in helping store many orders of magnitude more carbon than i ever emitted from flying 🙂

  2. To use less energy as an individual does not help solve the problem directly. It will just mean that your neighbour buys a larger SUV before people start solving the problem. Like you rightly write, it is a tragedy of the commons and that can only be solved by collective action.

    There is an advantage to a low carbon lift style indirectly, in that it shows you can use a lot less carbon and still live of good life. That the catastrophes the alarmists claim to happen if we would use less carbon are a fantasy. Personally, I look forward to a society where children can play in the streets again, you naturally move more and you do not have to fear being overrun by cars in the public space. Well isolated homes are a lot more comfortable. We’ll manage and will spend our money more on other nice things that do not need so much energy.

    • Victor,
      I completely agree with you. I would love to live somewhere without cars – one of the charms of Venice in my opinion – and to walk and cycle everywhere. Think how much governments would save on healthcare. And I agree with what you say about well insulated homes. They are more comfortable. There’s no contest there.

  3. Since the BBC broadcasts to the world, the world has a right to comment. One might as well say that the tweeter must pay you a fee before commenting on your broadcast.

    As for the following remarks. There is no pleasing some people because it suits there purpose to pick on anything. If you really want to wind them up, pat them on the head and call them dearie. Yes you are right, that is very very wicked (very) but something has to power my broomstick (at least it’s green) .. 😉

    • I was thinking that too, Graham. The BBC is very international and I’m sure their website is viewed by people from all over the world.

    • Thanks for the link, todaysguestis. I like Kevin Anderson and I think he raises some good points in that article. I would only say in my defence that there’s no train from New Zealand to the UK. I suppose we could travel by boat and I would open to that idea if my partner could take the time off work. Perhaps this is how we’ll be traveling in the future although it would be nice if technology could find a better solution. Maybe teleportation?

  4. The appalling weather experienced recently in the UK and elsewhere in the world has drastically altered the common mindset about climate change. I have never known so many people in agreement about our own destruction of our planet.

    This is enormously positive but too many people think that it is too late to reverse this process. Global co-operation is needed and that is a tall order at the best of times. Developing nations for one are not going to be willing to tow the line.

    • Hi Mary,
      I agree. I think nature is finally convincing the masses that what scientists have been warning us about for decades now is very real. I do sense a bit of “it’s too late now” and it’s true that had we started making changes ten years ago we’d be in a completely different game right now but we didn’t. But I sense that most scientists think we can still mitigate and that we should.

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