A couple of times a year, my college friends get energized over one thing or other, and exchange a bevy of emails. The introduction in Congress of a Green New Deal Resolution on Feb. 4 by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey generated much enthusiasm and a series of policy proposals from these folks. Finally, I weighed in with the following.
I admire all the ecological commitments of the Beloit gang and am impressed with the detailed knowledge of policy initiatives each of you bring to this discussion. Thanks to all for furthering my understanding of these matters.
I’ll restrict my contributions to this dialogue to a few central points. In retirement, I no longer feel the need to pull my punches and give equal weight to everyone’s views. I trust that you will forgive my increasingly partisan perspective.
First, I believe that the empirical evidence of global warming and of the role of human influences is overwhelming.
Secondly, while some of the consequences of our poisoning the atmosphere with greenhouse gases are empirically evident, even more fearful are many predictions of future social, economic, and political catastrophes that are likely if this problem is not addressed. Since the magnitudes of these predicted consequences lie in the future, they cannot be assessed adequately by empirical evidence. But we do possess social and environmental theories that approach having paradigmatic status among informed experts in various disciplines. In short, there is near consensual scholarly agreement on such matters as the effects of climate change being visited largely on the poor and future generations. Such people will have every reason to curse us for the injustice and stupidity of our neglect.
Third, many of the policies that have been suggested as necessary antidotes to this problem should, of course, be pursued. But I think we have to go beyond small-bore policy initiatives and address more difficult structural and cultural changes. We must begin with something along the lines of a Green New Deal. But to go back to a lesson I learned at Beloit; we need to adopt Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” – which I recall as urging us to enlarge our ethical compass to embrace deep concerns for peoples in faraway places and species other than humans. While I agree with Larry’s concern that “the tragedy of the commons” will make difficult the necessary structural and cultural changes, we must remember Garrett Hardin’s admonition that minimizing this tragedy will require “mutually-agreed upon mutual coercion.” In other words, we need international treaties that employ widespread use of governmental authority to enforce compliance with needed restrictions on everyone’s freedoms.
Fourth, while it’s hard to be sanguine about achieving such agreements, it is obvious that the current US administration is not up to the task. It is thus essential for each us to participate in efforts to remove Trump from office and elect progressive Greens not just to the presidency but to other important positions of authority throughout the country and indeed the world.
Perhaps some of you will remember that I still drive a gas-guzzling SUV and that I love a good steak, and thus think that these “radical views” mark me a hypocrite. Indeed. I am as self-interested as most people; this truth about human nature is at the root of the tragedy of the commons. I don’t want to be a sucker who gives up travel or beef to make a minuscule contribution to improving our ecology while the planet continues to groan as most others live out their preferred life styles unconstrained by restrictions needed for long-term ecological sustainability. That is the point of my invoking Hardin earlier. I need to be punished for making life style choices that add to ecological problems, but others need to be similarly punished. We need various forms of governmental coercion that will change individual calculations about the cost and benefits of abusing the planet, humans throughout the world, and indeed not just trees but other animal species.
So, here’s to high (punishing) taxes on gas and meat. Here’s to much more stringent governmental regulations on the extraction of fossil fuels and the treatment of farm animals in the production of meat and dairy products. Here’s to not just hugging trees, but hugging the cattle and chickens that we now so cruelly abuse to drive down prices of foods whose production undermine our sustainable home.