Friday, August 10, 2007

Spreading the Pain

A Detroit News editorial argues that addressing global warming involves a lot more than demanding higher fuel efficiency from US automakers:

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the Dearborn Democrat who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, is proposing a 50-cent tax on a gallon of gasoline and suspension of mortgage deductions for what he calls McMansions -- homes over 3,000 square feet.

Dingell continues to press the point that if we believe global warming is so serious a threat that it's worth destroying the automobile industry, then it's also worth spreading the pain to as many other places as possible.
Though I can't quite believe that making a better product - even under duress - would destroy any automobile industry worth preserving, I basically agree. It's common for "concerned" people to point a finger at stock villains like the auto industry, as though a pinch of regulation here and a dash of innovation there will allow us to keep living in the style mandated by what Pierre Bourdieu calls the "symbolic dripfeed" of conventional economic wisdom. To their partial credit, climate skeptics tend to understand a bit better than the average liberal Democrat what's really at stake in this debate.

That said, this sort of "pain" intimidates me quite a bit less than the idea of continuing our national descent into asocial conservatarian navel-gazing. I don't think I'm alone in believing that we can and ought to do better as citizens and human beings - hell, as organisms - even if it means throwing certain economic commandments out the window.

Then again, I may be underestimating the power of "rational self-interest" to make change seem impossible, even as it changes everything:
[W]e do like Dingell's idea of putting a clear price tag on the global warming war and making consumers understand they'll be the ones to pay it.
That'll learn us, eh? You can't help wondering who the author imagines is currently picking up the tab for America's energy policy.

(Illustration: "Infernal punishment for the Seven Deadly Sins: the gluttonous are forcefed on toads, rats, and snakes." From Le grant kalendrier des Bergiers, printed by Nicolas le Rouge, Troyes, 1496.)


Cardozo said...

Great post! An apt and disturbing image you include with it.

What is it that makes us so oblivious to our impact on the environment that common sense remedies must be forced down our throats?

I think the answer to that lies somewhere in the realm of social pathology, and the "McMansions" trope creates, I think, unnecessary class divisions rather a more spirited "we can do it!" strategy based on recognition of our common culpability.

Phila said...

unnecessary class divisions rather a more spirited "we can do it!" strategy based on recognition of our common culpability.

Good point. I think that's probably right.