Friday, July 20, 2007

Not denial, but short-termism

Much is made of irrationality and unwillingness of people in wealthy countries to change destructive consumption patterns. Hands are wrung over 'denial'.

And there plenty of is evidence that many if not most are willing to ignore evidence and cling to demonstrably false beliefs rather than face up to difficult realities, such as the need to reduce emissions rapidly. Paranoid conspiracy theories can be one of the ways in which people try to impose order on unpredictable events (see The Lure of the Conspiracy Theory).

But even in the most tooth-and-claw societies, people sometimes recognise the need for laws and government (see James Galbraith) that 'save' us from our own shorter term and more destructive desires, and the unethical businesses that feed the craving and so help create circumstances in which short-sighted behaviours are rewarded. Here are two examples.

In Fuel for thought James Surowiecki suggests that:
In calling for a law requiring better gas mileage in our cars...[U.S.] voters are really saying that they’re unhappy with the collective result of the choices they make as buyers. Sometimes, they know, we need to save ourselves from ourselves.
And in Obviation Not Generation (part of the Heat and Light NS supplement), Roger Levett suggested that:
[U.K. consumers taking advantage of absurdly cheap flights] had no trouble distinguishing sensible, individual action to exploit available opportunities from the question of whether those opportunities ought to be available.
[P.S. If this report in Mother Jones is right, it sounds as if John Edwards 'gets' this more than other candidates for the U.S. Democratic presidential candidacy. See also The Economist's profile of Edwards.]

No comments: