Monday, February 26, 2007

Not a Moral Issue

According to Al Gore, speaking at the Oscars a few hours ago, global warming is “not a political issue; it’s a moral issue.” He’s wrong.

Viewing global warming as a moral issue is like viewing inflation as a moral issue. Telling people it’s immoral to overuse carbon-based fuels is like telling people it’s immoral to raise prices. WIN buttons didn’t help with the inflation problem in the 1970s, and the environmental equivalent of WIN buttons won’t help with the global warming problem. The problem in responding to global warming is one of coordinating our response, and that is precisely a political problem.

Unfortunately it’s a very difficult political problem. President Carter was ultimately able to solve the US inflation problem relatively easily by appointing Paul Volcker as Fed Chairman and letting Volcker take the heat for the necessary adjustments. By making money scarcer, Volcker’s Fed provided the incentives that induced businesses (and labor unions) to coordinate their pricing policies. Dealing with global warming will require much wider coordination (it can’t be done one nation at a time), and there is no existing mechanism to provide an independent scapegoat for the pain that may be involved.

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24 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

No, it is a moral issue. A pure political issue is something like the pledge of allegiance or flag-burning. Sure, the means are political, and only economic tools will solve it, but global warming is about what we owe the future, and that ultimately makes it moral.

Mon Feb 26, 02:40:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Alex said...

Global Warming can be viewed as moral issue because of the negative externalities.

Moreover, Global Warming is caused by deliberate action. Knowing that polluting the earth is bad and doing it is morally and ethically bad.

Of course, it all boils down to the different perceptions.

Mon Feb 26, 02:54:00 AM EST  
Blogger knzn said...

I grant you it has a moral aspect to it, but so does almost any political issue. Surely people who oppose flag-burning don't regard it as a morally neutral act.

Mon Feb 26, 08:59:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Environmentalism is increasingly a political and economic issue in more ways than one (and of course it has also retained a moral aspect). For example, the comments of anarcho-libertarian David Friedman demonstrate very well how things are changing. His view:

“Environmentalism in general and global warming in particular provide new arguments for expanded government power, new taxes, and the like. That does not mean, of course, that those arguments are wrong, but it does mean that there are a lot of people who have an incentive to support them whether wrong or right…Simply put, I am skeptical of conclusions that appear to go well beyond the scientific evidence, pushed by people who have reasons to want other people to believe them.”

Things are indeed getting political. I doubt this is the kind of thing we’d be reading 15 years ago when only “environmentalists” (loosely defined as granola-eating tree-huggers) cared about the impact of our oil dependency and whatever else. Environmentalists who are driven by morals are not the ones motivating David Friedman to consider the effects of global warming; he is giving consideration to individuals who tout new incentives (economic, political) to care about global warming (albeit, as a skeptic tainted by yesterday’s strict moralists, perhaps).

That quote from D. Friedman is from here:
http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2007/02/global-warming-nanotech-and-who-to.html

Mon Feb 26, 12:30:00 PM EST  
Blogger Jeremy McKibben-Sanders said...

When Gore calls global warming a moral issue I don't think that he is necessarily implying that there isn't a political solution. If people are led to believe that producing a certain amount of carbon is immoral, they are all the more likely to pressure political forces towards a coordinated response.

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