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26 February 2020

Carbon and Hypocrisy

Something has been bothering me for a while. Of course, I’m no climate scientist, so I have to accept that, if I were, the answer to my point may actually be easily explained. First, let’s just be clear that the “the science is all settled” argument is not necessarily correct; there are potentially differing views and interpretations of data, which may rationally indicate differing outcomes. However, it seems to me that the logical - responsible - position for those of us (so far and away the bulk of humanity) who are not scientific experts is to behave in such a way as to minimise - to the extent we can - the polluting elements of our lives. And to be honest, it’s not only as a hedge against potential climate change; wouldn’t life be much pleasanter anyway if vehicular traffic were much quieter in our cities, if each car that went passed didn’t puff a noxious gas in your face, if we didn’t have to hack through myriad layers of plastic packaging to get at every purchase we made, and if nobody had to risk their lives on a deep water drilling rig?

So I - like, I suspect, most people  - do what I can to reduce my carbon footprint. I only have hybrid cars - which reduces my fuel consumption quite a lot - my lawn mowing is done by a rechargeable electronic robot, instead of someone walking (or riding) up and down behind a petrol mower, I’m happy to pay more for items with less built-in obsolescence; just like most thinking people in developed countries. There is - and certainly should be - more leeway granted to those in developing countries, who haven’t yet reached the stage of comfortable industrialisation that the west has; I assume that view is generally held.

However, there is a piece of hypocrisy that I struggle to understand. We little people are doing what we can, all the while being harangued by the virtuous about our irresponsibility in using gas, or oil, or - now - wood as fuel, or daring to take aeroplanes to go on holiday - or, indeed, on business - or for eating meat (particularly that of the beasts that produce methane). And yet there seems no problem when a Hollywood (American) actor takes a private jet from France to New York to collect an award and make a speech about climate change and then right away takes a private jet back to France. Or when (ex? former?) Royals flit around to holiday and hideaway, also by private jet, all the while stressing their green beliefs and credentials. Or when the virtuous of the business elite take their private aeroplanes to Davos to confer about the terrible problem of climate change, and frankly once in the resort, take limos from conference venue to conference venue rather than stroll through what would otherwise be clean Alpine air. But that’s all OK, apparently.

Now, the reason, I’m told, is because they “offset their carbon footprint”, by buying carbon credits, or paying to plant trees. Well, yes, but there seems to be a logical inconsistency here. If it were genuinely the case that we could - to the satisfaction of the climate lobby - simply use money to make the problem go away in this way, then frankly the problem wouldn’t be there in the first place and we could all do exactly what we wanted; it’s such a difficult issue precisely because nobody knows what the solution is. I’ll be clear about this - I love private jets. On the - sadly infrequent - opportunities I get, I’m there. Best way to travel; but I won’t lecture you about the rest of you not doing it. Perhaps we could have a bit more honesty. If you - multiple ‘important people’ - want to travel privately and comfortably, then fine, do it. But please cut out the virtuous preaching, telling the rest of us that when we board our commercial airliner we are next to Satan and stealing our children’s future. 

Or perhaps, carbon credits and carbon offset really do work; I’d love to have that demonstrated to me, but I’m not holding my breath. 

On a different topic, a few weeks ago I wrote about the ‘China to overtake US economically’ stories, with a degree of scepticism. Well, China is pretty good at shooting itself in the foot; there was SARS a few years ago, and swine flu, and now coronavirus, which in the last week has started to have serious economic consequences, causing major falls in global markets. Perhaps along with economic growth a parallel importance might advantageously be given to improving public health measures, for the sake of us all. Just a thought…….  


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