Thursday, October 25, 2007

Is Al Gore an environmental hypocrite?

The short answer is no.

Right wing talk shows and blogs have been making a big deal lately about how big-name environmentalists like Al Gore are hypocrites. The point is that while Al Gore is allowed to fly around the world producing greenhouse gases as part of his quest to educate the public about global warming, the average citizen is expected to conserve resources as much as possible and live a carbon-neutral lifestyle.

This is not hypocrisy. This is the Right misunderstanding the point. The problem with carbon consumption is not the production of greenhouse gases per se; the planet doesn't "die a little a bit more" everytime a bit of carbon dioxide is produced. The problem is the production of greenhouse gases on a mass scale. As long as the priviledge of consuming carbon is restricted to the few -- by making carbon so expensive that only the rich can afford to consume it, say -- then the amount of potential environmental impact is negligible.

So, no, Al Gore is not an environmental hypocrite. He simply believes that a sustainable society will consist of two basic social classes. One social class will be granted extensive carbon-consumption priviledges in exchange for benevolent governance of world civilization. The other social class will consist of the masses: people living lives of stark* utilitarian discipline in order to preserve the environment for generations to come.

* Research suggests that bourgeois social institutions lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

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