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General · 21st April 2008
Barry Saxifrage
A very interesting response to the theme of the Specter's "Big Foot" article appeared in this Sunday's NYTimes Magazine. Michael Pollan wrote an article titled "Why Bother?"

It was the most emailed article on the NYTimes website when it came out.

He poses the question:

"Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it’s not an easy one to answer."

Here are a few quotes to get the flavour:

There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late.
Whatever we can do as individuals to change the way we live at this suddenly very late date does seem utterly inadequate to the challenge. It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter, in a recent New Yorker piece on carbon footprints, when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous [N.B.!], cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.” So it will. Yet it is no less accurate or hardheaded to say that laws and money cannot do enough, either; that it will also take profound changes in the way we live. Why? Because the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle, of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.

For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing, something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do.

Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking, passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists, that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it.


Layer on top of this the facts that I keep coming back to:

* less than 8% of humanity is responsible for 50% of emissions

* mathmatically, this 8% must make biggest per-capita emissions cuts

* this 8% will be the last to respond to flat carbon-price signals or carbon-scarcity

What is clear to me is that we will never solve climate change without the dramatic participation of this 8%. How will that happen?

Either this 8% steps up to the plate voluntarily somehow to self-limit emissions of the group....or we wait for things to be so bad that it is imposed via desperation from the increasingly suffering bottom 85%+.

Specter argues that it is too complicated and too meaningless for individuals to engage beyond calling for new laws. Micheal Pollen counters that individuals must lead before any meaningful laws can happen. I agree...with an emphasis on the necessity of the 8% to lead.

By "voluntary" and "lead" I mean anything that causes engagement in actual solutions. It could be any combination of laws and/or intra-group ethics.

For example it could be a law that caps personal emissions. But that law will not happen gracefully or in time without the 8% voluntarily allowing discussion in the media they control...or discussion in their social gatherings...or discussion in the legislatures they populate...or action in their own lives...etc. Fine for "leaders" in media, society, biz and government to say "we need laws to solve it"...but there must be discussion of laws that can actually solve it.

There could be an ethics component as well. For example a decade or so ago a few wealthy folks like Ted Turner started to challenge their peers to donate more to charities. Lists that mirrored the 500 wealthiest people appeared listing the 100 greatest philanthropists for the year. Quickly, the measure of "success" by the group expanded to include charitable giving...and the largest charitable donations and foundations in history appeared rapidly.

We need a new response that acknowledges our required starring role in preventing climate chaos. here to read the rest of this article on The Vancouver Observer as originally published.
Whu bother?
Comment by Smokey Dymny on 6th April 2013
It's 2013 and the CO2 levels at Mauna Loa observatory are said read 396 ppm now.
How are we doing on the voluntary cutting back of carbon and equivalents by the top 8%?
Any ideas? From all I can discern, emissions just seem to be growing. Your chart in another article stating that Alberta and Sask. had increased to 50 tonnes per person seemed a bit unfair. The tar sands emissions could be attributed to the Federal Conservative PArty hacks and the oil industry. Why blame all the citizens of 2 provinces. Blame ALL Canadians for not getting rid of Harper, or just blame Harper for allowing it to continue growing.
Maybe we need more radical action against the tar snads than just writing about it?????