What are reasonable lifestyle adjustments re: global warming

This thread quickly devolved into a debate over Al Gore’s hypocrisy, but there’s the kernel of an interesting question in there.

What should we reasonably be expected to adjust, in our day-to-day lives, to counteract the issue of global warming? This question covers both legal and regulatory restrictions, as well as societal pressures.

Should governments give private citizens “air mile” quotas, in order to reduce emissions from aeroplanes? Why, or why not? If not that, should people who take regular holidays be viewed with a sort of contempt by society, in the same way that fly-tippers are viewed? Should restrictions be placed on engine sizes, and minimum efficiency figures be instituted, in cars? Should SUVs, and other excessively polluting vehicles, be banned outright? If not, should their drivers be viewed with contempt? Should restrictions on pets (who are extremely energy intensive, re: pet food) be instituted? Should there be a quota on dogs: one dog per household?

Basically, if you believe that global warming, and excessive pollution, is a great social ill, what steps should be taken to prevent it? How many restrictions on day-to-day life can be instituted, before we collectively say “that’s enough”?

(I ask this as a firm believer in AGW, not a denier.)

Appropriate pricing mechanisms to reflect the cost of dumping carbon into the atmosphere.

None. If you’re willing to pay a steep enough price to engage in carbon-emission-intensive activities, then go for it.

The only thing I’ll add is that, in addition to pricing carbon emissions appropriately, government does have a role in providing alternatives to some carbon-intensive activities. Creating and improving public transportation networks, for instance, and increasing the supply of housing convenient to public transportation: no matter how expensive owning and driving a car gets, people will still have to drive if there’s no decent alternative.

Why should pricing be used as a tool to limit carbon emissions? That just means richer people get to pollute the same, while only poorer people will have to alter their lifestyles. That might be effective, but does appear to me to be rather unfair. During previous war times some nations have experimented with ration cards. That seems to be a much fairer solution. Although ripe for all kinds of fraud.

Yup. Market processes will work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if market mechanisms exist to deal with them.

The reason we got into this mess in the first place is because we didn’t realize that using the atmosphere as a free dumping ground for greenhouse gases was going to cost us farther down the line. Now that we realize it, we can use markets to internalize those costs.

So the question is, what lifestyle habits that we now have are going to turn out to be the most costly/expendable in a carbon-aware market economy, and thus will carry the highest incentives for adjusting them? Off the top of my head, I’d guess fossil fuel use for personal transportation, and energy inefficiency in commercial buildings.

Well, there is a sort of “ration-card” policy at the national level, where emissions targets are set for a country as a whole. The problem with doing that at an individual level, AFAICT, is that (as you note) those who can afford to pay for extra emissions will simply use their money to figure out ways to game the system.

yes, after decades of letting the now-rich get away without paying those costs.

If you want to push through changes that will markedly interfere with the comfort or wealth of the population then you will need broad support in the population. I think that if the people see a sizeable portion of the population (the rich or the well connected or the inteligensia or some other special group) managing to avoid making these changes, then any such support will be undermined. I know mine will. I’m not going to support any legislation aimed at reducing my carbon emissions until I feel such reductions are shared fairly by everybody.

No doubt there will be some loss of popular support for any policy that’s perceived to favor the rich. The question is, will the loss of support be enough to prevent implementing the policy?

That doesn’t always seem to be the case. For example, consider the high gas-tax policies of most Western European countries, which seem to maintain broad popular support even though they impact the non-wealthy more than the wealthy. A fuel rationing system would probably be in theory a better way to “share the burden fairly”, but voters seem content to go on letting people use more gasoline if they can afford to buy more gasoline.

The fuel tax has been put in place for economic reasons, not to cut down on fuel consumption. If the wealthy buy more gas, they pay more tax and everybody is happy. Or at least those in favour of the tax are. Conceivable the rich using more gas, could even allow for a fuel tax-reduction on the poor when then projected tax revenues have been met. It is not a zero-sum game. Carbon emissions are. The rich are not going to create more carbon emissions allowances to the poor by emitting more carbon.

If a public park or forest or beach or other piece of public land was being overrun and needed to cut down on the number of visitors, this too could be done by setting a high admittance fee. But also in this case I don’t see why some random selection of people (the rich) should be able to enter the park and not another. Their wealth has nothing to do with the public land. It would be no more fair than saying only redhaired people could enter or another arbitrary selection of people.

Ones wealth and carbon emission limits are two different subjects that should have no overlap. Like for instance I would be fairly pissed if I found out wealthy people could buy out of conscription based military service. That would severely reduce my willingness to participate in such service. And I’m not going to accept the rich buying carbon offsets either. Although I guess that would make some sense.

off topic, but you are aware that’s what happened the last time we had a draft, right?

Well, AFAICT it accomplishes both revenue generation and fuel consumption reduction, and both purposes seem to be widely recognized by policymakers, as this “Decision Maker’s Guide” assessment indicates.

How high is “high”? Is it acceptable to have an admittance fee set so that poor people can afford to use the park occasionally, while rich people can use it a lot? That way nobody is totally excluded from the park, but park use levels reflect ability to pay.

I quite agree that there ought to be a universal per-person emissions “baseline” of some sort so that everyone’s most basic emissions requirements (like, say, breathing) can be met without payment. Beyond that, though, I’m not sure I see a persuasive reason for disqualifying market structures as a way to handle emissions reduction.

Beyond the basics like breathing, greenhouse gas emissions are essentially a byproduct of consumption. We don’t ration other aspects of consumption on a per-person basis the way centralized command economies do; we let markets allocate consumption based on ability to pay.

Of course it’s not fair, because life is not fair. This policy would hit the poor harder than the rich, because every policy ever enacted hits the poor harder than the rich. That’s what “poor” and “rich” mean. If we avoided policies that hit the poor harder, we’d never do anything at all.

The rich can also afford to eat foi gras, caviar, and filet mignon every meal if they want, and I can’t. Is this fair? Of course not. But it’s not very realistic for me to complain about it.

I know nobody wants to hear this, but, realistically, there’s no voluntary carbon emission reduction approach that will ever have any significant impact on AGW, and talk to the contrary is pure fantasy and feelgoodism.

The only way you’re going to control an externality is by putting a price on it. Whether it’s cap and trade, offsets, laws, whatever; you control externalities by finding a way to make them expensive. That’s going to hurt people. If you don’t want to hurt people by putting a price on carbon emissions, then just accept that you cannot control carbon emissions, and get working on another solution. If you want to control carbon emissions, accept that it will inevitably hurt the poor more than the rich, and it’ll hurt everyone at least a little.

Presumably, the consequences of not dealing with the issue now will cause even more hurt down the line, which is why you’re accepting pain now. A rabies shot hurts, but it sure hurts a lot less than developing rabies.

Nearly all emissions, from what I am aware, are from coal energy plants and cars. If you swap to nuclear energy and hybrid/electric cars, the problem is solved. (Or rather, it will be solved for the US. Then you have to convince China, Russia, and India to use more expensive, higher technology.)

The individual, making some sort of personal sacrifice is pointless and more importantly you’re never going to get a majority of people to vote to sacrifice their quality of life for global warming.

? How much are you calling “nearly all”? This graph on world greenhouse gas emissions by sector (based on 2000 data) indicates that worldwide, all transportation contributes 13.5% of emissions, and all electricity and heat generation contributes 24.6%. That adds up to less than 40% of total emissions for all transportation and electricity/heat generation combined, not just cars and coal-fired energy generation in particular. The figures are more or less corroborated by this simpler graph, which allocates 14% of emissions to all transportation and 21.3% to power stations.

Hmm. Got cite? I can’t find a sector-by-sector breakdown for US emissions that exactly parallels the worldwide one, but this graph indicates that transportation as a whole accounts for only 28% of US GHG emissions. AFAICT we’d still have about half our current emissions levels to deal with even if all power generation and all transportation went carbon-neutral tomorrow.



Um, thanks, EP. Did I miss a non-displayed graphic or spoiler box in your post or something?

It’s not just cost which can be used to regulate peoples behavior. Convenience of use and marketing play roles as well.

For example-auto’s are still the easiest way to travel in many parts of the US. In addition, auto use is heavily marketed. Once it becomes obvious that you can get from point a to b more easily by taking the train and auto use is not glamorized peoples behavior will start to change.

It was not to long ago recycling was unheard of. Making it easier to do and marketing it changed people’s behavior.

Cutting out nearly 40% of emissions, wholesale, is pretty substantial and more importantly feasible. You don’t need to reduce emissions to 0. For instance, agricultural emissions are likely unchanged from the world before humans because, surprise, there were plants and animals occupying the land before humans came in. And more importantly, you can’t stop producing food.

We can move to alternate sources of energy than petrol and coal, on the other hand. And if you think that cutting out 40% of all emissions is insubstantial, I’d have to wonder how much you think the world would be improved by getting rid of business class on airplanes.

Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I doubt that there will ever be meaningful action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions either in the United States or worldwide. Our government is controlled by corporations and special interest groups, as are most other governments. Those who have a financial interest in blocking CO2 reductions hold the power, and I see no feasible way to change that. Legislation may get passed that claims to address the problem, but it will always be watered down so as to achieve almost nothing. Far more likely that legislation will always be used to jack up the use a fossil fuels and other pollutants, so that some of the world’s richest people can become even richer.

I have every respect for people who are voluntarily making sacrifices to reduce their carbon footprint. If you’re willing to wash your clothes on cold cycle, good for you. (It basically makes no difference in terms of the cleanliness of clothes.) If you’re willing to air dry your clothes rather than using the dryer, good for you. (The dryer is the second most energy-hungry device in a typical home, with air conditioning coming first.) If you’re will to put on a sweater rather than turning the heat up, great.

But I don’t expect to see any useful legislation.