Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Put up a sticker and you've done your bit

By James Allan - posted Tuesday, 29 January 2008

I have this visceral dislike of bumper-sticker moralisers. These are people who go out of their way to advertise what they take to be their own exalted moral sensibilities, but do so at no cost to themselves and without the messy business of having to weigh costs and benefits or to choose between stark alternatives where none is particularly pleasant or easy. It's all form and no substance for these people, and there's no shortage of them around.

Take those who plaster "Save the Whales" stickers on the back of their cars but miss the irony that it's an upmarket Toyota to which they're attaching the thing. Saving the whales is great in principle, but not if it involves forgoing an expensive new Lexus. Far better to bring a lawsuit that has no chance of being enforced.

Or what about many of those who announce that we should "Save Darfur"? Nowhere do they tell us how this is supposed to be accomplished. Through the UN, perhaps? But that organisation is famously hostage to the vetoes of the five Security Council members.


It is an organisation that is congenitally unable to stop anything, be it slaughter in Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burma or ... well, you get the idea.

Indeed the only remotely plausible way to stop massacres in Darfur, and indeed just about anywhere else on the planet, is for the US to do something militarily, as it did in Bosnia and Serbia under Bill Clinton (when the Yanks bombed and bombed and bombed some more, all without the imprimatur of the UN, for the information of those who punctiliously assert that only UN-authorised actions are acceptable). But, of course, most people who put "Save Darfur" stickers on their cars would be horrified at the prospect of US military action.

What they mean is that saving Darfur, in the abstract, as a general notion, as some warm, fuzzy abstraction, is a jolly fine idea. So count them in. But if it were to require making unpalatable choices - killing people, propping up the least bad alternatives and so on - well, then stop right there. This is about feeling good about oneself and showing that one cares.

Signing or ratifying the Kyoto Protocol strikes me as comparable. For many it's all about feeling good about themselves, not about looking to see what works, what is possible, how to balance economic growth and people's adaptability against achieving worldwide reductions.

My criticism is much deeper than the well-known fact that Al Gore's Tennessee mansion wolfs down 20 times more electricity than the average American household. Sure, hypocrisy is never all that hard to find. But the more important criticism has to do with whether Kyoto has the slightest prospect of being successful.

A study on the website American Thinker claims that in the seven years between the signing of Kyoto in 1997 and 2004, carbon emissions from countries that signed the treaty rose 21 per cent, while among non-signers they rose 10 per cent. And Australia, until recently a non-signatory, had a slower increase than Canada, a loud, vocal and proselytising signatory. If that's correct, then what exactly is the benefit of Kyoto?


I mean that question seriously, not rhetorically. What good has come from Australia signing up to the thing? (I'm assuming we didn't do it in order to allow ourselves to pump out even more carbon with the other signatories.)

Has anyone else noticed that as soon as the Rudd Government ratified Kyoto and advertised its good intentions, all the heat (if you'll pardon the expression) went out of the issue. It's as though one has only somehow to signal one's on the side of the angels - or at least willing to talk the talk - and that's that. But even a moment's thought is enough to make it clear that whatever the extent of the global warming problem, it is most definitely that: global. And China and India have made their positions clear. (I would say they are defensible positions, too.) They want economic growth. They want to alleviate poverty. If that means 2C or 3C more by the year 2100, so be it.

And both those giant developing countries well know that the West became rich because of cheap energy. Now it's their turn. The gap between their view of what will amount to a fair sharing of the burden of cutting greenhouse gases and the view of the European Union, to say nothing of the US, is so wide, it takes someone wholly divorced from reality to see any prospect of the divide being bridged. As one well-known commentator remarked, "The Kyoto approach is dead and buried". The same person also pointed out the practical flaws in carbon emissions trading schemes.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in The Australian on January 22, 2008.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

13 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by James Allan

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of James Allan
Article Tools
Comment 13 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy