Archive for the 'Environment' Category

The Moralist’s Catch-22

OK, let’s make a couple of assumptions right off the bat for the purpose of this exercise.

  1. You want to help others.
  2. You’d like not to compromise your own values in doing so.

Simple enough. Now, what do you do when compromising your own values is the best way to help people?

This is the moralist’s dilemma, and every now and then it becomes a focal point of policy. Do we employ torture in the hope that it saves innocents, or do we shun the practice, deciding that the moral implications outweigh the potential good?

What’s interesting politically about such dilemmas is that they are a poor litmus test. For instance, someone on the right might say yes to torture but no to sex-ed that isn’t abstinence-based. Sex education, as with torture in the abstract, compromises their values. But in this scenario, our hypothetical right-wing friend doesn’t think the benefits of lower rates of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease are worth the moral grey of handing out condoms.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone; the point is you can’t simply say conservatives make moral compromises, liberals don’t, or vice versa. In fact, it would be far more accurate to say that, when dealing with the morally grey, liberals and conservatives alike will only “go there” when the cause matches their ideological bent. Adding to the deficit is OK when it’s to cut taxes, but not when it’s to increase spending. And on, and on.

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Underreported Congressional Bullets

Congress is mulling over the following things, at the moment, not that most Americans have heard about them.

  • Speaking of sin taxes, Congress is contemplating a series of “lifestyle taxes,” including, most infamously, a tax on non-diet soda to help pay for health care reform. The rationale is that high-sugar soft drinks contribute to obesity. Well, so do La-Z-Boys and Snickers. One of the reasons sin taxes are palatable is they generally enjoy support from tax-hesitant constituents — even prohibition had its share of popular support at the time. I don’t think soda is seen as enough of a public evil for this to fly, especially given the absurd number of industries up in arms over this. Kudos for creativity, though.
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A Reasonable Global Warming Counterargument

The Republican Party’s (and associated columnists’) opposition to global warming legislation over the past few years has been all over the place. The arguments have ranged from the ever-popular, “It’s not real! It just snowed in May!” to “It’s real, but we didn’t do it!” Then there’s “Won’t somebody please think of the cost to consumers/businesses!” and “What’s the big deal? Everyone loves summer!”

One columnist, who purports to be a renowned scientist, managed to levy nearly every talking point in a single, spectacularly convoluted argument. My personal favorite was the claim that the U.N.’s scientists have produced “no credible evidence” that warming is man made. This, after he implicitly admitted that it was a problem by saying we need to get polluter-in-chief China on our side before we start talking about solutions.

Given that backdrop, when I saw this blog post from the Christian Science Monitor, I took notice.

In it, the Monitor analyzes two opposing views on global warming with — wait for it… here comes the twist — both conceding that it’s actually happening.

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Carbon Offsets

Robert Frank was a busy man today. He wrote this post for FiveThirtyEight.com, defending the notion of carbon offsets, and penned this column for the NY Times, doing the same. The idea behind carbon offsets is that, rather than reducing your own carbon emissions, you pay someone else to effectively cancel out those emissions by planting a tree or destroying something else that emits a lot of CO2.

Here’s a pull-quote that I think sums up his argument pretty well (via 538):

Suppose you live in a northern city with normally mild summers and are considering buying a bedroom air conditioner to ease you through the occasional brutal heat wave. Your choices are between a highly efficient model that sells for $500 and a less efficient one that sells for only $300. Because you’re concerned about global warming, you feel obligated to buy the more efficient model. But because you use your air-conditioner so infrequently, buying that model won’t actually help much. You’d do much more to curb global warming if you bought the cheaper model and used the money you saved to buy carbon offsets.

Make sense? Sure it does. But offsets aren’t without their critics, especially among environmental groups. The argument against it is a primarily moralistic one — allowing people to buy carbon offsets instead of improving their own behavior is (1) morally shady and (2) doesn’t address the root of the problem, people emitting carbon.

Frank links, in both articles, to CheatNeutral.com, which compares buying carbon offsets to paying other people not to cheat on their wives to offset all the nasty extramarital jollies you keep pursuing. This complaint makes particular sense with reference to Al Gore’s buying carbon offsets to compensate for his 221,000 kWh mansion. Carbon offsets shouldn’t be a license for rich people — especially idealisitic ones — to pollute.

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About the Author

Brian Eason is a University of Missouri graduate with bachelor degrees in Journalism and Political Science. He has covered Congressional elections and local government for the Columbia Missourian and worked as a general assignment reporter for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, IL. Brian has also had articles published in Roll Call.