We Must Act Collectively

Lynne Heller made a great point on the Lynne and Michael Show this past Sunday and then employed it to come to the wrong conclusion.  Lynne argued correctly that in American there’s far too great an emphasis on the individual’s responsibility to act in ways that minimize social problems rather than on our collective obligation through government and other institutions to address them.  Lynne implied, again correctly, that the reason for this over-emphasis on individual action is because such an emphasis tends to insulate those with wealth and power from the taxes and regulations necessary to address poverty and stop corporate polluters.

Lynne also made the very just point that it’s not fair to expect people who are barely making it or not making it to act contrary to their own personal interests just because it will benefit all of us in the long-run.  Then Lynne’s logic faltered. She claimed that my call for a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was an example of my reliance upon personal responsibility to reduce global warming.  Indeed, it is just the opposite.

Currently, the economic incentives in America are all for burning carbon.  The cost to the carbon consumer is a fraction of the per calorie cost that burning it imposes on all of us through air pollution and global warming among other noxious externalities.  As long as we allow carbon burners to externalize these costs, we will be incentivizing its use.  Expecting people to use less of the product when it is clearly in their short-term financial interest to consume it is relying upon personal responsibility to solve global warming.  But, if we raise the price of carbon through a significant enough tax, it will be in each consumer’s immediate financial interest to use carbon alternatives.  People will no longer need to behave “responsibly,” i.e., contrary to their own short-term economic interests, in order to reduce their carbon consumption sharply.  Instead, the individual’s short-term interest, using the cheapest possible energy, will correlate with society’s long-term interest in slowing, stopping, and ultimately reversing global warming.

I’ve said it so many times that I shouldn’t have to say it again but because carbon taxes are regressive and would hit many financially struggling Americans particularly hard, we should redistribute to poor and working class Americans all collected carbon taxes.

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13 Responses to We Must Act Collectively

  1. Shade says:

    Liberals are in denial if they think politicians will enact a Draconian carbon-tax and allow the funds to “trickle-down” to the working-poor. Most politicians are beholden to energy moguls for campaign financing and/or for their future passage through the revolving door to personal wealth. The working-classes are increasingly disenfranchised & either don’t vote or vote against their own best interests! Congress just this year once again lowered taxes for the wealthy and reduced funding for energy assistance, low-income housing, & food stamps. Reagan was right about one thing, the man from the government is not always there to help (YOU)!

    It is noble that Limousine Liberals are willing to pay more for THEIR carbon-based energy… they know they will always be able to afford all the energy they want. Idealistic Liberals in the middle-class often think they will always continue to be
    able to afford all the carbon-based energy they really need or that there will suddenly be affordable non-carbon energy options in sufficient quantity that will prevent them from feeling the pain of energy shortages or high prices. Those in the middle-class that are more realistic and those on the economic bottom know that they face financial disaster if their energy prices increase too much & they know that they are not likely to be able to immediately afford any green options that might appear.

    Hal always asks his energy policy detractors if they have another solution. My counter to this is that neither he or anybody else can provide an easy answer that will actually work; our country & the world simply has too many people to support. I believe a balanced approach is the best option, including a GRADUAL increase in the tax on carbon fuels so we can see what other energy options really prove themselves to work. While I know it is disappointing to many, I also think we need to keep nuclear power plants in the mix for the foreseeable future. Over time, I think they too will become more “green”.

    • Dave says:

      We don’t need to increase taxes on energy. We need to make solar cheaper. By giving tax credits and grants to support the industry we can move on the problem faster. Energy taxes will only make the poor, poorer.

  2. Denica says:

    K, Hal I felt that you r saying ur the most environmentally “sound” person at krxa when u fly across country and have two households/ car sets – just sayin! Also seems like you only like to have non-threatening women on, when you all but proposed to Ed! Also, my mom Plants Trees for a Living – that does require a large vehicle sometimes. (posted in chat as well)
    I don’t have a car but I think you misrepresented the situation! My mom (Lynne) has always been an environmentalist. It is easy to say bike when you can buy a house wherever you want to. You make it sound like my mom wants everyone to rely on carbon, which is a lie. Also, why talk about someone on your show and then not let them respond when you twist the situation? Hope the flying carpet gets you to the East Coast (to your eco-friendly yurt) safe next time! Really (not the case by the way)? We all know you bike to work because you are able to buy a house where you want, and I applaud you for that. To attack someone like my mom for driving once in a while is odd. 😛

    • Shade says:

      Denica- You and I sometimes have our disagreements but I completely agree that Hal went over the line in talking at (and not to) your mother & a few other callers about the carbon-tax issue today. Hal often has this problem on this issue… I think he is riddled with personal guilt re his White flight from our part of the country and his bi-coastal energy use. KRXA is not exactly an environmentally Green enterprise either… I told Hal once that his King-Kong sized carbon footprints can seen in the area surrounding his transmitter & now in a trail across the country!

      Hal doesn’t understand what it is like to live a life of meager existence, where your need your next paycheck just to eat & survive another week. He doesn’t understand that the working-poor often have no options in their energy use & that for them even a small momentary energy price increase can have devastating effects on their lives. Prius(s), Volts, & solar panels are fine options for those that can afford them but it is not fair to structure a society that will destroy people who are not in a position to afford them.

      Hal is delusional if he thinks Congress is going to pass a carbon-tax & redistribute this money to the working poor anytime soon. (I call this Hal’s “trickle-down” theory of taxation because of the connotations it makes forcing a comparison to other failed economic policies.) Hal needs to get off his simplistic mantra of enacting a Draconian carbon-tax and explore other options that might actually get implemented and work. Hal & I actually agree that an increase in the carbon-tax is an important component to an energy solution but I say the tax must be implemented slowly as was done with automobile CAFE and emission standards. Overall, we love you Hal. We just want you to be more realistic & consider those of us who cannot afford the options you can afford.

      • Denica De Foy says:

        Right Shade. Unfortunately I think this is the problem with a lot of our representatives – it is easy to look at something in theory but if you have never lived it – can u know what u r talking about? I don’t think so.
        Hal is awesome but seems to fall into the trap of not thinking things into reality. I think a high speed rail system is the way to go! Like I said before I don’t drive – and I do OF COURSE promote personal responsibility on the environment (more so than anyone I think)- but saying that the working poor are responsible for the policies of the lazy rich is silly. When someone has been beaten down like Pavlov’s dog and Still tries their hardest – that is called fortitude. Sorry in between the family and financial crisis we and the nation had/are having makes it hard for people to buy a Volt or to flit about on a bike. It is easy to say bike when u hire urself near the second home u bought! 🙂 LOL When there are so many other things to talk about now, y this?? At least Ed came on so we don’t have to hear about that anymore! Duck Wings Down

  3. lynne heller says:

    In response to Hal:
    Hal, your summation of my statement from Sunday’s show is correct until the second paragraph, second sentence which reads, Lynne states that “it is not fair to expect people who are barely making it to act contrary to their own interests just because it will benefit all of us in the long run.” I made no such statement. This issue is not about selfishness or my inability to understand what you are saying. This issue is about the inability and unwillingness of the working and middle class to assume anymore imposed costs from a government that shirks its responsibility and accountability to renewable energy sources and to the citizens of the U.S. and the world community.
    All citizens have a responsibility to the collective. This is what a moral society aspires to in a Democracy. I believe the emphasis on personal responsibility is used to blame the victim. As Barbara Ehrenrheich would say, “a bait and switch.” It is impossible to collect a tax that people cannot afford to pay in the first place. Who is going to “redistribute” this money that we cannot afford to pay; a government agency under the eye of a regulatory body that works for industry or our corrupted undemocratic government itself?
    People aren’t as short-sighted as you think. I believe it is our civic and human duty to ourselves and to the planet we inhabit, to demand that we invest exclusively in renewable fuel sources. Citizens must demand that our Environmental Protection Agency enforce stringent environmental standards to companies like the Koch Brothers one of the biggest polluters in America. I think we need to fire the Energy Department. President Obama’s green-washing campaign is a travesty of fossil fuel mythology. The myth of “clean coal” and “clean nuclear power” are both touted as viable options though we denigrate the earth blowing the tops off of mountains, and with each nuclear accident we stand on the precipice of radiation poisoning and death to all living systems.
    The people need incentives not more punishing costs or future debt. No more punitive measures imposed on or relegated to the people. No more subsidies funded by taxpayers to B.P. or millions thrown at nuclear power plants or companies engaged in fracking for natural gas; these are dangerous and unresponsive entities that have no conscience and no oversight. It is the government and irresponsible yet powerful industries that require punitive measures. No more social pain so our government can perpetuate a pretense towards action. We are doing our part, it is Time for the Leaders to lead.

  4. Shade says:

    Wonderful sentiment but in your idealism, you exclude all electrical generating options that have proven their ability to meet our current and future needs! Although the growth in solar and wind production has been impressive, these sources still only produce less than 1% of our total electrical demand. New solar/wind production does not even keep up with the yearly increases in our nation’s demand (even though like other energy sources they are heavily subsidized).

    One also has to recognize that the wind doesn’t always blow & the sun doesn’t always shine. We cannot afford our economy to go into convulsions every time these energy sources falter. Wind & solar have a theoretical cap of usefulness at about 10-15% total electrical production for this reason. I’ll grant that conservation can accomplish a fair amount but it takes time to retrofit… and at best it might allow us to curtail some of the anticipated increases in future electrical demand. (White roof paint, solar water-heating, and insulation/weatherstripping are actually the most cost-effective “green energy solutions” but they aren’t sexy enough to get the funding they deserve.)

    One also has to recognize that any failure to meet our nation’s energy requirements produces its own undesirable effects. People will get sick, have accidents, and die if there are spot shortages of heat and light. In addition, consider the impact an electrical shortage would have on jobs that the working-class needs to keep themselves fed & housed.

    There are no easy answers to our energy woes. The Draconian carbon tax Hal promotes is no more viable than your Green idealism. As you implied, Hal’s carbon tax would pull money that our economy cannot spare & apply it to solutions that don’t yet exist. This would be an invitation for fraud and waste, on a par with military spending!

    Simplistic solutions for our energy requirements are also likely to get people killed… in much greater quantity than the few that might get sick or die from Japan’s nuclear “accident” (that was really caused by corporate & governmental corruption). Except for the workers that are currently struggling in the Japanese plants, it will likely be difficult to statistically measure the quantity of people whose health will be adversely affected by the world’s second-most serious nuclear power plant accident! The damage these plants have done to our environment has been minuscule compared to the damage done by our never-ending wars for oil, and by carbon-based fuels such as coal. Radiation from the plants in Japan are measurable long distances from the accident only because we have exquisite instrumentation that can isolate the isotopes released from the background levels of “natural” radiation. While it will be necessary to take steps to limit the introduction of biologically active radioactive isotopes to the food supply, the overall total of radiation the Japanese people will be exposed to will remain very close to normal background levels.

  5. Greg says:

    As we all debate the politics, the practical, the ideal, the finances, the theories, the trickling down, the impact on the poor, on business…it’s obvious we will never agree on a solution. But not to worry– those disagreements won’t even be remembered as we pollute, leak, and radiate ourselves into oblivion.

    When my grand children or great grand children are wearing masks and dealing with increased cancer, and sterility, I’ll explain to them that my generation valued high-definition programing,iPads, and keeping their party in power more than clean air and water.

    • Denica says:

      Right Greg. How about just using LESS people? 1/5 of our power comes from Nuclear – lets cut that out and turn them off. That is something I KNOW we can DO! Also, y not drive less? Would it kill someone to walk to the store? It will kill everyone if we don’t start involving ourselves. I don’t like that Hal is trying to say that my mom doesn’t believe in personal responsibility when she has spent her life re-greening areas and preaching/ enacting positive change.
      1) Eat less or no Meat!
      2) Turn off lights
      3) Walk/ Bike (WHEN U CAN HAL LOL)
      4) Grow some veggies urself! (If u CAN)
      5) Always recycle your toothbrush/ etc
      6) Get a shopping bag
      ETC

  6. Bob Oliver says:

    Think Globally and Act Locally. Part of the big Carbon Footprint:
    1. Everything we worked for is being stolen from us as I write. This means we have to continue to work work work all over again and extend that carbon foot print.
    2. Energy should be free
    3. Water should be free.
    4. Air should be free.

    Atomic Energy was a bad idea.
    UFOs are real – so is their technology.
    Two party system is a one party system.
    This is a war by the rich against the poor.

  7. Arlen says:

    Denica barely touched on population, and I think it’s worth talking about. We recycle here, and drive a little less there, which is good, but if the population keeps growing, all of that is nullified. in 1800 the world population was one billlion, In 1900, it had grown to 1.6 billion. Today it is almost 7 billion and growing, I don’t think the Earth is capable of holding that many humans without major problems. But our leaders ignore the population issue because they’re afraid to offend the religious folks, and of course the capitalists need more workers and consumers.

    • Shade says:

      What Denica, Hal, & others don’t recognize is that BECAUSE THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD, none of our options are even close to the ideal or perfect. Some people are going to die in our effort to keep most alive. The options presented for change by idealists are often not even close to scientifically/mathematically viable (off base by orders of magnitude!) & the outcome of following the idealist’s advice is therefore essentially to do nothing (OR WORSE, to take down those energy options we already use that at least work). Idealists don’t understand that doing nothing is also a decision… a decision that will RESULT IN THE HARMING & DEATH OF MANY MORE PEOPLE than the flawed options we currently pursue.

  8. Shade says:

    “How about just using LESS people? 1/5 of our power comes from Nuclear – lets cut that out and turn them off.”

    Hitler had a solution something like that…

    I’m sure that’s not what you meant BUT you should know that the way I twisted it is EXACTLY WHAT I HEAR WHEN IDEALISTS LIKE HARVEY, HAL, & YOU PROPOSE NONSENSICAL ENERGY SOLUTIONS that I KNOW aren’t scientifically or mathematically supportable (and thus WON’T KEEP THE WORLD’S ECONOMY OR AS MANY OF ITS PEOPLE ALIVE)! This is why I spend so much time on this website pounding against the energy solutions of idealists. I am not an evil corporatist!

    1) On meat, we agree in that we in the U.S, should eat less. Most of the of the world already does.
    2) Lights aren’t really the big energy wasters if you use florescent/LED… refrigeration, heating, & industry are the BIG users but they help keep the masses alive.
    3) You already pointed out why many can’t bike.
    4) You can’t grow veggies yourself as efficiently as modern agriculture does… in the total picture, you will invariably use MORE energy (but the results are worth it if you have the time/patience).
    5) Recycle- YES. The U.S. throws away many very usable/recyclable items & thus much of the energy used to manufacture them is thrown away too. The U.S. needs more second-hand thrift stores where stuff that was thrown away is resold cheap.
    6) Reusable shopping bags are justifiable more on the environmental hazards plastic bags create than the energy savings involved. The energy used to make new bags can be largely reduced by simply recycling old plastic bags instead of throwing them in the garbage.

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