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Green Economics

Is there a 'we' in climate change? Or just an 'I'?

Al Gore in a new article claims that controlling climate change is a collective struggle for Americans. Instead, it may be an individual opportunity for entrepreneurs.

By Matthew E. KahnGuest blogger / June 24, 2011

Former U.S. Vice President Gore speaks at "Our Choice" at the Imperial Cinema in Copenhagen Nov. 17, 2009. Mr. Gore sees climate change control as a collective struggle for Americans. Is it?

Casper Christoffersen/Scanpix/Reuters/File

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My subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine ended roughly 30 years ago but this piece by Vice President Gore is worth reading. Here is its last paragraph.

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"The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America. It is about whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it."

Note the key word; "we". In a diverse society, what do "we" agree to? This dramatic paragraph emphasizes that we collectively have made the wrong carbon choices up to this point. But, "we" are a collection of individuals. How will individuals, as moms and dads, as consumers, choose to live our lives given the world we have unintentionally created by producing so much GHG emissions? Vice President Gore embraces a "collective" solution that "we" must band together.

A more realistic vision is that people will differ with respect to their ability and willingness to "perceive important and complex realities". Those who do have these skills will be more likely to thrive in the tough days ahead and they are likely to make $ as entrepreneurs as they anticipate the others' future suffering.

Collective action today (i.e reducing GHG emissions now) would be a cheaper and less risky strategy than allowing climate change to play out but given that we have taken no serious steps to reign in carbon emissions --- is it obvious that "we" must work as a team to adapt to climate change? Will decentralized competition and learning and experimentation be a better strategy for maximizing the number of good strategies to help us cope?