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from crisis, and elevated unemployment, the public appetite for renounc-
ing our dependence on fossil fuels is virtually nonexistent. The focus on
recession or debt will drown out other priorities for many years—at least
until the recovery has brought the country well out of the housing crisis
and greatly reduced the unemployment rate. Never mind that the actual
costs of the transition for an average citizen would not be very large; with
the carbon untax, for example, such a citizen would probably come out
ahead . Never mind that a substantial subsidy to the developing world
wouldn't impose a large burden on the ordinary taxpayer. The problem
here is not practical, but psychological; it arises from the difficulty of
thinking about distant nations, and a presumably distant future, while in
the midst of hard times. In a highly polarized political context, actions
that are rather inexpensive can take on huge symbolic significance, for
taking those actions requires that we accept a new and perhaps unpalat-
able view of the world and of our place in it.
For some observers, it may be quite easy to denounce the widespread
denial of climate change as well as the overwhelming reluctance to act.
But it just won't do to blame others. Those who are often the most pas-
sionate about climate change—relatively well-off, educated, and liter-
ate citizens—are part of the problem, too. Take the question of airplane
travel. Let's say an exemplary citizen recycles scrupulously, drives a fuel-
efficient car, eats organic food, and votes for enlightened politicians—
but takes three plane trips a year (to see parents in California, to vaca-
tion in the Caribbean, or to see friends in New York). It's quite possible
that just one of those plane trips will have as great a carbon footprint as
driving that fuel-efficient car for an entire year. Everybody knows, or
should know, that plane travel is a serious indulgence, that it cancels out
any environmental responsibility that citizens might otherwise display. 65
But everybody in the middle class or above indulges in it anyway. David
MacKay brilliantly juxtaposes two quotations from Tony Blair. In the
first, Blair says, “Unless we act now, not some time distant but now, these
consequences, disastrous as they are, will be irreversible. So there is noth-
ing more serious, more urgent or more demanding of leadership.” Two
months later, “responding to the suggestion that he should show leader-
ship by not flying to Barbados for holidays,” Blair says that this idea is “a
bit impractical actually …” 66
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