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Friday, October 26, 2007

Morality and Global Warming

Regarding Global Warming, a friend of mine recently wrote:
"But to do nothing, when there might be something that could be done, is wrong.
My friend's point is that like Al Gore, he thinks it would be immoral to do nothing.

Okay, I'll tell you what. I don't usually ride my bicycle to work this late in the year because of the shortness of the days, but I'll ride my bicycle to work once next week to avoid burning some gasoline in order to reduce global warming. Then I've done "something" about it which means that we collectively have done something about it.

Good enough?

No? I didn't think so.

So what someone really means when they say something like that is that it would be wrong not to do enough to address the issue. But what's enough? There are those who think that nothing short of causing the extinction of all humans via mass genocide and mass suicide is enough. Sure, they're crazy, but the point is that there is a continuous spectrum of opinion on what's enough that ranges from doing nothing to total human extermination.

This spectrum of opinion is based on subjective personal preferences based on the information available to each individual. Combining the personal preferences of a group is the job of politics and democracy and has nothing to do with morality.

Now some will say, "Let the scientists decide." And there's nothing wrong with taking input from scientists. But scientists aren't experts in economics, can't make subjective risk assessments for all six billion of us, and even the debate between scientist who more or less agree about the science will be fierce and political.

In a political debate, a common trick to convince people to join your side is to claim that the issue is a moral one and that you are on the right side of the issue. That is exactly what Mr. Gore is doing when he claims Global Warming to be a moral issue. Indeed, he takes this trick to new heights by claiming it to be the greatest moral issue of our time. Who'd want to be on the wrong side of that? Fortunately, most people with even a modicum of sophistication see right through that ploy.

However, I'm quite concerned with even considering something to be the "greatest" moral issue. That rather makes it sound like a trump card. That is, if two bits of morality conflict, this one wins. Unfortunately, that implies that if mass extermination of humans is required to solve the problem, then so be it.

For that even to be a possibility is immoral in my book.


erp said...

Bret, you're far too valuable to put yourself at risk riding your bike in the dark.

Bret said...

Thanks erp.

Howard said...

If at the margin people start to realize that the scientific consensus argument is bogus, then Reverend Al can preach fire and brimstone from the Goran. The moral argument is another attempt to shutoff reasoned debate. (Keeping in touch with their inner tyrant.)

erp said...

Howard, what a great formulation -- the Goran!

Reasoned debate with a leftie can't happen because in their world, wishing really does make it so and feelings trump facts.

Howard said...


wish I could claim authorship, but alas not...


Howard said...

last try here

Peter Burnet said...

Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.

Marshall McLuhan

erp said...

Tim Blair eh -- he does have a way for words, not to mention MM.

Does anyone else feel it? There seems to be a real change in the air. We've been watching JAG reruns and episodes about Iraq seem like ancient history.

Our local liberal rag has gone back to headlining atrocities of the state legislature and evil corporations. Not a hint of BDS or Halliburton.

Bret said...

You're right, erp. Bombs not blowing people up isn't news apparently.

Hey Skipper said...

What about all the extra CO2 you generated by riding your bike?

Bret said...

Even as much as I huff and puff going up the hills, I'm probably not generating quite as much CO2 as the car.

Howard said...

Let's see - this post is about morality and global warming. Try this on for size:

If you expect economic growth to continue at the average annual rate of 2.3%, to which we've grown accustomed, then in 400 years, the average American will have an income of more than $1 million per day—and that's in the equivalent of today's dollars (i.e., after correcting for inflation). Does it really make sense for you and me to sacrifice for the benefit of those future gazillionaires?

Question: Most people favor income redistribution from the wealthy to the poor through progressive taxes, estate taxes, etc. Isn't it then inconsistent for those people to show concern for the future rich, and advocate that the relatively poor (people living today) make sacrifices today for the relatively rich of the future (people living 100 years from now)? Won't that be a transfer of wealth and income from the poor (today) to the rich (tomorrow)?

And if one's position is that we should care about the rich in the future and make sacrifices today to leave them a cleaner environment, why doesn't he or she treat the rich living today with the same respect and concern, e.g. advocate a flat tax on income instead of a progessive income tax?

via Carpe Diem

erp said...

carp, you say what!

Question: Most people favor income redistribution from the wealthy to the poor ...

I doubt that very much. I know I certainly don't and don't know anyone who really thinks it anymore.

Howard said...


I don't think Charlie Rangel got the memo.

erp said...

Probably not, but then his isn't the majority opinion either, is it?

Bret said...


That would depend on how you define income redistribution. In its purest form, anything short of a poll tax is income redistribution. For example, public education could be thought of as income redistribution. Social security, medicare, public roads, etc. could be thought of as income redistribution.

If that's the definition, then I'm for some level of income redistribution.

erp said...

Bret, the things you mention are merely paying your share of the upkeep of the country, but I guess it could be considered a form of income redistribution as your money is paid to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker for services rendered.

I would define income redistribution as I think carpe diem meant it as trying to even out everyone’s income so that funds are taken away from the workers and given to the shirkers as entitlements and by shirkers I don't mean those unable to do their fair share like the mentally or physically infirm and the young or the elderly whom we are, in my opinion, morally obligated to provide for.

Susan's Husband said...

I have to agree with erp. Income redistribution is taking money from A and giving money to B.

Bret said...

Okay, no reason to argue over definitions. But with your definition, most of socialism is not, therefore, redistribution. Because if you pay $1 million and I pay ten bucks for the upkeep of the roads, or the upkeep of the hospitals, or the salaries of the doctors, or the agriculture subsidies for food, or the textile subsidies for clothes, etc., and that's not considered income redistribution, then hardly anything falls under the heading of income redistribution.

It's always about what's a "fair" share of government expenditures for whom and it's usually hidden as some sort of government good or service, not as taking money from A and giving it to B. Once it hits steady state, they didn't even do that in the USSR.

Lastly, I generally prefer direct income redistribution and then having more goods and services privatized rather than having the redistribution hidden by having the government use my money to pay for goods and services and then hand those out. I think it's more honest and transparent and I'd rather people be beholden to me rather than the government. As an example, I support school vouchers where my taxes essentially give poorer people money to pay for private school as opposed to having my taxes pay for the government to run schools. Indeed, I'd rather the government just hand out the equivalent amount of cash to the poor and let the poor do whatever they like with it. I assume you'd definitely not call government run schools income redistribution, you might call vouchers redistribution, and you'd likely call just giving the poor the cash directly redistribution. But what's really the difference?

erp said...

Bret, I don't think any of those things as income distribution. Naturally if you drive more than I, you pay more tolls and buy more gas which is highly taxed, so more of your money goes into the public coffers. Same with everything. I agree that I don't want to guvmint taking money from me and giving it to some beer swilling sluggard who can't fit a job into his busy schedule.

What the left wants is not to provide services for low income people. They want moral equivalency. That's why food stamps now are on credit cards and rather than the free clinics in low income areas which provided excellent medical care either free at very low cost, lefties want health insurance so the people they pander to can play let's pretend.

Public schools and even school vouchers are a investment in our future (or at least that's what they used to be) as are parks and public beaches, libraries, maintained hiking trails in the mountains, the Forest Service, etc. are there for us all to enjoy. Even the dread public transportation is a necessary evil.

Providing amenities for our citizens isn't socialism or income distribution. It's merely what We, the People provide for each other so we can pursue happiness. Our system is so great and works so well, I pray we don't allow it to go down the tubes in some misguided tinkering to make things fair.

Over and out. This eastern time zoner is going to bed now. See you in the morning.

Bret said...


Can you give me an example of income redistribution? Nothing seems to qualify in your book.

erp said...

Confiscatory income tax rates designed, not to enhance revenue, but to punish achievers; programs that have proven ineffective and even detrimental, i.e., ESL programs which delay a child’s entry into mainstream classrooms, but enhance considerably the ranks of the teachers’ unions; so-called affirmative action programs which do much to further the feelings of worthlessness among the those already suffering the results of the failure of the public schools to identify, encourage and support the brightest kids among the inner city poor; the gazillions spent on the various “wars” on poverty designed to build an out-of-control bureaucracy of federal employees all of whom can be depended upon to vote for Democrats; the misnamed Earned Income Tax where people who haven’t paid taxes, get a “refund;” and practically every welfare program every devised ... enough?

I try to bury this stuff so my head doesn’t explode, but if you want more, I’ll shake the cobwebs out and come up with them.