Is there a 'we' in climate change? Or just an 'I'?

Is there a 'we' in climate change? Or just an 'I'?

Posted on

Mon, 06/27/2011 - 11:16am

From: The Christian Science Monitor on June 24, 2011

By: Matthew Kahn, Luskin Scholar and Professor of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Department of Public Policy and Department of Economics

My subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine ended roughly 30 years ago but this piece by Vice President Gore is worth reading. Here is its last paragraph.

"The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America. It is about whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it."

Note the key word; "we". In a diverse society, what do "we" agree to? This dramatic paragraph emphasizes that we collectively have made the wrong carbon choices up to this point. But, "we" are a collection of individuals. How will individuals, as moms and dads, as consumers, choose to live our lives given the world we have unintentionally created by producing so much GHG emissions? Vice President Gore embraces a "collective" solution that "we" must band together.

A more realistic vision is that people will differ with respect to their ability and willingness to "perceive important and complex realities". Those who do have these skills will be more likely to thrive in the tough days ahead and they are likely to make $ as entrepreneurs as they anticipate the others' future suffering.

Collective action today (i.e reducing GHG emissions now) would be a cheaper and less risky strategy than allowing climate change to play out but given that we have taken no serious steps to reign in carbon emissions --- is it obvious that "we" must work as a team to adapt to climate change? Will decentralized competition and learning and experimentation be a better strategy for maximizing the number of good strategies to help us cope?

From: The Christian Science Monitor on June 24, 2011

By: Matthew Kahn, Luskin Scholar and Professor of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Department of Public Policy and Department of Economics