Moral puzzles about collective action

If I don’t fly from London to my sister’s
wedding in New Zealand she will be upset, I will cause her pain and so
that’s morally bad. If I do fly to my sister’s wedding in New Zealand I
will put about four tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which
will contribute to climate change, which, according to the World Health
Organisation, already causes about 150,000 deaths every year. Clearly
that’s also morally bad. Which is the morally correct thing to do?

That question is considered by Will Wilkinson.  Don’t argue the facts of carbon emissions (you can choose another scenario if you wish), focus on the moral dilemma.  Will says fly, the plane is going anyway.  That makes my brain hurt with game theory and the probability of threshold effects and triggers.  (Isn’t there some chance that your patronage, eventually, sets another flight in motion, if only stochastically?)  Under an alternative approach, say you are allowed some quota of carbon emissions; otherwise suicide or residence in Iceland as a pedestrian would be required.

Your net carbon impact depends far more on the number of children you will have than any other variable; remember good environmentalism uses a zero rate of discount.  So people with no biological children should be allowed to fly a lot and people with lots of biological children should not get to fly so much at all.  Is that so far from the reality we observe?

Here is a good new piece on our carbon footprints.


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