Just today I was reading an article in two parts about Al Gore and the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) lobby. It must be said that I am not Gore's biggest fan (see previous post) but I think far too much is made here of Gore's personal habits and their theoretical effect on the entire AGW movement and it's worldwide success. Here is the thing: Gore is an ardent environmentalist advocating massive, immediate cutbacks in carbon producing activities worldwide. He is also a guy who has a personal jet with which he flies around the world to various speaking engagements for which you must pay him more than most people make in a year. Each individual trip on his personal jet has a larger carbon footprint than most first world residents leave in an entire lifetime and probably as much as whole villages in some parts of the world. He also owns multiple mansions and numerous vehicles. This is hardly the way to set an example and certainly not practicing what you preach and the articles I linked talk about how this has gone a long way to invalidating the entire AGW movement since Gore is somehow its unofficial king.
I don't buy it. Gore is a gigantic hypocrite and his movie is full of hyperbole and outright falsehoods but I doubt that this actually hurts the AGW movement in any significant way. I doubt very much that more than 1% of the population actually has the slightest idea about Gore's lifestyle and even if they did I can't see why that would set their minds against it - people buy products from companies or groups that are led by people they hate all the time. One thing the articles did get absolutely right though is that much of the aim of the AGW lobby is to arrange a global agreement to stop and rapidly reverse our carbon outputs and this goal is simply not feasible. It is true that global warming is happening, it is true that there will be substantial costs involved, but it is not necessarily true that the best course of action is to implement some sort of global treaty in an attempt to cap emissions. Not that if such a treaty magically was put into place and everyone followed it that it wouldn't work, because it would, but that such a treaty cannot get into place and countries will not follow it.
Imagine the scenario where the majority of first world nations have made public committments to reducing carbon outputs drastically. Their politicians have signed up, the populace is informed, everyone is expecting big things. What happens? Carbon emissions continue to climb, no country in the entire world hits the targets that were set for it and everyone continues on their merry way displaying a fine example of the tragedy of the commons. This is what has already happened with Kyoto! To actually enforce dramatic cuts in carbon will have very substantial negative economic implications and we have all seen what happens when people lose their jobs; politicians suddenly realize that in order to stay elected they flat out *must* scrap anything that isn't helping the economy. Imagine what would happen if we could somehow get China to sign up to such an agreement (which we can't). They would note that their massive growth targets and increasing standard of living would have to reverse itself and then they would ignore their treaty obligations. Other countries would freak out, but what recourse would they have? It simply isn't going to work to ask people to accept substantial financial hardship to help the entire world when half the world is reaping the benefits and contributing nothing to the cause. This is to say nothing of rogue states like North Korea or Iran who are even less likely to somehow be brought into the fold.
There are lots of things we can and should do to try to limit emissions. The attempts at global carbon treaties are doomed to failure though because they are so difficult to administer, set up and enforce. We just don't live in a world where these treaties are going to work. Does that mean continuing to increase our worldwide carbon emissions for some time? Almost certainly. Increased warming? Yes. The practical matter of *how* to reduce emissions is simple, convincing people to sacrifice for the cause is not.