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Global pizza

Guilt won't cool the Earth, so I'll take another slice

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This article is contributing to global warming.

This article is printed on paper, inked on an energy-consuming press, and trucked to locations around the county. Carbon dioxide was burned, and since carbon dioxide is the primary driver of human-made global warming, this article is taking us a small step closer to the end of the world. And since you're reading it, it's now your moral responsibility to do something about this article's carbon footprint. Ride a bike, buy a better light bulb, or send a check somewhere. Something. You owe the rest of us, and now you can't pretend you didn't know.

Do you doubt me? In recent issues, New Times has been host to several articles about global warming, its repercussions, and humanity's subsequent responsibilities. Reading them, it's hard not to understand that people who are concerned about global warming are looking to people like you and me to solve the problem.

But if you're not sure you owe the world something by reading this article, you're a step along the path to skepticism about the whole concept.

I'm several steps down the path. I'm not a doubter about the science I accept that the world's best scientists know more than I do. I am a doubter, though, about the idea that I, on my own, have a moral responsibility to save the world by reducing my own carbon footprint. Particularly since I don't know how big my footprint is and apologies to Al Gore's on-line calculators have no genuine way to know it.

That skepticism is only magnified by the recent-and-growing trend toward large corporations offering consumers people who fly or stay at hotels, for example a chance to purchase "carbon offsets" to reduce their impact on the world. Where does the money go? I don't know either, but I'd be surprised if the corporations aren't getting some sort of offset themselves.

More importantly, it seems obvious that once an industry has built itself a financial interest in magnifying concern, there should be skepticism about the validity of the message.

Before anybody goes Hayduke on me, read on.

Let's accept that global warming is real and that human actions are a primary cause. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels. Famine. Accept all that to be true, and it seems obvious that the solution has to be at the meta level. The solution should come from government leaders, who can control and measure how much oil is burned, how much fuel is pumped in other words, who can figure out if the goal is being met or not.

The solution should not and, I'd argue, cannot come through guilt-induced temperance or, worse, guilt-driven consumption of new products that are slickly marketed with the message that you can buy your way out of ownership of the world's problems. Thanks to the corporate eco-marketers, people who build 4,000-square-foot "green" homes with three-car garages to house their hybrid SUVs think they're part of the solution.

It starts to smell way too much like Y2K: a difficult-to-understand end-of-the-world concern whipped frothier by daily media and marketing whisking.

When I've tried to have this discussion with my greener friends, they preach moderation. Do what you can, that's all you can do. Every little bit helps.

Maybe, but what if my sacrifices don't have any impact whatsoever?

If we concentrate on petroleum as the largest factor of the problem, we need to accept that, like all commodities, oil is priced at the intersection of supply and demand. If my petroleum abstinence merely leaves more petroleum, priced lower, for the RV driver cruising the coast at 6 mpg, I haven't contributed anything to the solution. Just as much oil is pumped, refined, and burned it's simply burned by someone else. I could give up the car entirely and not spare a drop.

It's like denying yourself the last slice of the pizza at the poker party, in the hope of saving a slice for the friend coming later, only to have the fat guy grab it. The only solution is for somebody to take charge of saving the pizza for later. Put it in tinfoil and move it to the fridge.

That's all I want. Let somebody else take charge of saving the pizza. I'll still have to make the same decisions and sacrifices better cars and light bulbs that use less power but this way I'll know I'm serving the public's interest and not simply relieving my guilt while enriching the marketers.

If you'd like to offset this article's carbon footprint, please mail a check directly to Managing Editor Patrick Howe and he'll spend it responsibly. E-mail him at phowe@newtimesslo.com.

 

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