Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Consumption and Global Warming

A couple of recent news articles talk about the need to address consumption in order to control global warming.

John Dingell (D. Mich) says that he plans to introduce comprehensive climate change legislation this fall that includes an end to tax deductions for McMansions; any house over 3000 square feet would not get a tax deduction for mortgage interest. Dingell explained:

"In order to address the issue of climate change, we must address the issue of consumption. We do that by making consumption more expensive.'"

In an unrelated article, Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, is quoted as saying:

"We try to be strategic about doing the things where each unit of effort has the most impact. We'll encourage companies to make more efficient S.U.V.'s, and we'll encourage consumers to buy them, "but we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective."

The Sierra Club seems to be behind the curve on the issue of consumption, but I think that both Dingell and Pope would be more successful politically if they framed the issue in terms of giving people more choices, rather than in terms of taxing or lecturing people who consume too much.

As an example of the right way to frame the issue, there is a group dedicated to promoting alternative transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area that always talks about promoting "transportation choices." The way our cities are currently built, most people have no choice but to drive every time they leave their homes. Instead, we need to build neighborhoods that give people the choice of walking or using public transportation as well as driving.

The most important way to deal with consumption is to offer choice of work hours. Most Americans today have no choice but to work full-time jobs. We should give them the option of down-shifting economically by reducing their work hours and their earnings. This option is the first step toward building a movement to simpler living, and offering it as a choice would obviously be more successful politically than taxing consumption or lecturing people about consumption. I don't see how anyone could object to having this choice.

For more information about choice of work hours, see the white paper Work Time and Global Warming.


Blogger Admin said...

"Choice" is definitely a preferable frame than coercion suasion. I remeber when participating in the local Land Use planning process that a number of New Urbanist activists were present and advocating for 'transportation choice' and 'housing choice.' It was an effective approach, yet I was surprised that the opponents also utilized choice as the center of their own reactive frame. They stated their position as "Some people do not want to live intown and do not want walkable neighborhoods. It isn't fair to force people out of the suburbs if they like it there." No one is forcing them to leave the suburbs, which is after all the dominant housing type since the end of WWII, but they still managed to frame alternatives as a coercion, rather than an expansion of choice. This is to say nothing of the fact that suburbia as a way of life may be coming to an end as oil scarcity makes cheap motoring/commuting/car-based living increasingly untenable. However, that was a discussion that the community was not ready to have at that time.

9:55 AM  

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