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?