Burn Carbon Responsibly
One thing that Elizabeth Kolbert's broadside against eco-stunt literature (the books about going green by living without carbon, or electricity, or trash, or toilet paper) didn't do a very good job of explaining is that making sensible decisions about how to reduce carbon emissions is really, really hard. It's intuitive, for instance, to eat local foods. But it's less intuitive to eat foods that are shipped rather than trucked. And few people know that it's much more important to reduce meat than reduce miles. How much carbon does Styrofoam use? Is that more or less than an aluminum can?
Lots of activities burn carbon. Some, like driving, have been hyped, and everyone knows about them. Some, like raising large numbers of animals to feed to humans, have not been hyped, and so people don't know about them. Some, like whether to take the bus or the metro, are simply unclear to people who haven't studied the issue. Asking people to be carbon calculators is a silly way to reduce their carbon output.
The problem is not that we burn carbon. It's that we don't price the harm of the carbon we burn into the products we buy. To put it slightly differently, it's that we don't burn carbon responsibly. That's why something like cap-and-trade, or a carbon tax, makes sense. The point isn't to have me running a thousand calculations about whether I should drive, walk, metro or bike; or whether I should eat a local chicken or buy a spinach salad. It's to have me simply go about my day and let prices make those decisions for me. Goods or services that burn more carbon will be more expensive. Goods or services that burn less will be less expensive. That's information I actually know how to use.
Photo credit: American Electric Power
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