Australia is moving to quit their short-lived and “unpopular” carbon tax, per http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/17/world/asia/australian-leader-scraps-tax-on-carbon-emissions.html at the New York Times. It is more evidence, heaped upon an ever-growing pile, that collective effort to forestall climate disruption is encountering headwinds from behavioral finance, notably the prospect theory of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, described elegantly and simply by Heukelom. In short, people don’t look after even their personal economic futures with anything like rationality, despite the apologies of Vernon Smith. They discount risks long in the future (“intertemporal choice”, per Weber, et al) and exhibit great impatience with respect to a desire to consume.
The Australian experience bodes ill for economic measures to contain negative effects of consumption. Prospect Theory suggests people can just not help themselves, despite popular illusions that people have free choice, and, on the average, “do the right thing”.
I am feeling less compassionate than ever towards both the immediate consequences of failing to do anything for economically advantaged publics who have what they have because they collectively use the atmosphere as a sewer and their moral complicity regarding what this will do to other people on the planet.
I take solace in a very good book, The View from Lazy Point, by Carl Safina, and in the comic cynicism of the late Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five:
“If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”
And elsewhere in Slaughterhouse Five:
“We know how the Universe ends–“, said the guide, “and Earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too.”
“How–how does the Universe end?” said Billy.
“We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers. A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.” So it goes.
Finally, a direct quote from Vonnegut himself:
Dear future generations: Please accept our apologies. We were rolling drunk on petroleum.