XrayMike observed: "David Cameron could be replaced by any number of heads of state. The externalization of costs is intrinsic to capitalism and not something that can be changed without radically altering what we know to be this current economic system".
He also linked to an essay by David Hilfiker, which is an excellent primer about our predicament, simultaneously unsentimental and reassuring...to the degree possible when we are faced with not just an existential threat but a horrific end for most if not all of humanity, not to mention all the other life-forms on Earth.
He dissects the futility of effecting political or cultural change based on the multiple constraints of our entrenched institutions, prejudices, and innate inclinations, all with crisp brevity, so I highly recommend reading the entire article, which is titled "Hope in an Environmental Wasteland". But because it's a point I have made (less elegantly) many times, I'm going to reprint one part, with italics added:
Although the majority of Americans recognize the reality of climate change and want governmental action, there has been no sustained popular demand for a change in policy. Why not?
Most Americans are deeply committed to their material lifestyle. The unspoken reality is that any effective challenge to climate change will require a radical transformation of that material lifestyle. Environmentalists and their organizations generally want to avoid this “inconvenient truth,” but the energy for indoor temperatures to our satisfaction, transportation of food, importation of goods from distant lands, personal transportation, manufacturing and much else all guzzle fossil fuels and emit CO2. A sustainable level carbon emissions—ie a level that the natural earth could recycle without rises in atmospheric CO2 levels—would be about two tons of CO2 for each person in the world per year. The average American uses 20 tons. As China, India and other poor countries develop economically, it’s utterly unrealistic—to say nothing of unjust—to expect them to keep to a 2-ton limit unless the Western world reduces its consumption accordingly.
What would 2 tons per year for the average American look like? It’s difficult to imagine, but for starters it would mean:
- no air travel (period)
- mostly local transportation on foot or bicycle (or the not-yet-existent) adequate public transportation
- vegetarian, if not vegan, diets
- only locally produced food … even in the winter
- no air conditioners … even in the South
- elimination of individual ownership of luxuries (and many other things we consider necessary), for instance, TVs, computers or washing machines
- reducing the average size of our homes by at least a third, if not a half (or having others share our space)
- and so on
Virtually no national environmental group acknowledges publically that a truly sustainable lifestyle will require such drastic changes. In Al Gore’s otherwise excellent and important film, "Inconvenient Truth", we are left with the impression that changing to CFL light bulbs, driving a Prius, recycling, and buying carbon offsets would be enough. Well, no, it won’t be enough. In this sense those opposing carbon limitations are absolutely right: our “way of life” will have to change.