02 March 2007

Al Gore's "Moral" Problem ...

I don't watch TV much at all. I understand that on winning an Oscar for his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" the other evening Al Gore described global warming in this way: "It's not a political issue, it's a moral issue." There are a couple of things about this claim. First, Gore is wrong. Second, he might as well have hung a sign on his back saying "Kick Me!" Let's work in reverse.

Having invited global warming skeptics and conservatives generally to kick him, they quickly and happily obliged. (If you Google 'Al Gore electricity hypocrisy,' by the way, most of the links are to one or another right wing rag.) As reported here in The Guardian, some policy research outfit in Tennessee went ahead and obtained the energy usage records for the Gore residence in Nashville. They discoved that the Gore abode's electricity/gas consumption is astronomical. Here is a nice (but not entirely persuasive) reply to the hypocrisy charge - also at The Guardian. But the underlying point remains - if we define global warming (or other large scale issues) as "moral" not "political," we open the door to snide replies by opportunists eager to shift the topic from a problem in the world to a problem with progressives and their motives. And arguing about carbon offsets and such arcane matters simply makes one appear to be even more of a weasel.

The real difficulty is that global warming is not a "moral" problem in the first place. It is precisely a political problem that requires enforcable political agreements and credible insititutional arrangements (for energy production, research, monitoring of compliance, and so forth). And even if all the moral "green" folk in the world want to do something about global warming, they need to coordinate their efforts which is a political task. Lots of uncoordinated individual efforts will have epislon effect on the environment. Those individuals may well feel good about themselves. (Assuming that they can get to work, for instance, without driving.) I don't care. This is about environmental consequences not therapy. Al's moralism is no more persuasive for being left-leaning than Tipper's (anti-rock lyric) moralism was offensive for being right leaning.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Moral" is a loaded word these days, but in principal I agree with what Gore has said. One could say that "Politics" is also a loaded word - thinking of this party or that party, this way of thinking over that way, as opposed to a methid that can be used to help others.

I like the term that His Holiness the Dalai Lama uses, "Universal Responsibility". When I hear Gore use the word "moral", I understand Hs Holiness' words. We have a responsibility to others. Without the others (whether human or non-human), we would not be able to live our lives.

22 March, 2007 07:49  

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