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Driving away from Omelas

So, say you acknowledge that the lifestyle Western culture pushes you toward involves a lot of life at the expense of other people, from environmental damage to benefiting indirectly from land theft and labor exploitation to I'm sure other things as well, and you'd like to do something about it. But you're not going to walk away from Omelas, with or without the ForsakenChild on your back, because you're not a saint, or because you've done the math and think living like a hermit isn't wide-scale sustainable either. So what can you do?

Donations get mentioned, but I think one thing would be to scale your donations directly to your harmful activities. In an ideal society we'd have taxes on fossil carbon, congestion, and other externalities, privatising such costs. In our society you'll have to do it on your own. Like, say, you estimate the social cost of driving is about $2.50 per gallon. Then for every gallon you buy, you could donate that much to carbon offsets or some environmental or helping developing nations charity. Though really it can be anything altruistic, since the main thing is to raise your own awareness and effective price.

If you live in one of the many countries where the gas tax is already more than that, you could defensibly skip this, even though the tax is mostly going to your country's general revenues; your gas price is already higher than it would in an ideal society with externality-taxed gasoline and income tax-funded government.

But of course there's also the natural gas for heating, and coal/gas fueled electricity, to be price offset.

And then other goods. Sometimes there's a fair trade, or organic, or "not made in China", or sustainably harvested option to go with, at a higher price of course. Sometimes there isn't, but you can still apply the principle. Research or guess what you should be paying, and donate that. Again, the difference from charity as usual is that you not just giving "what you can give", you're deliberately offsetting or pricing higher your own side effect-laded behavior.

Do I do this? No, I just thought of it today. Will I? We'll see.


See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/314320.html#comments


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2012 12:54 am (UTC)
These suggestions all seem more subjective than objectively useful. Taxes, and even donations, may not reach the victims, and are very unlikely to solve the longterm problem.

I'd suggest, donate to some project that is really working on better solar panels, better windmills, etc etc -- after researching to find one that is really likely to do some good. (And use some of our first world resources, eg internet, to publicize that good project and similar.)

Mar. 28th, 2012 12:58 am (UTC)
Not all victims may even be reachable by donation. The idea was more about raising one's own effective price, to create the same incentives a proper carbon tax would. Though donation to charities one likes might be counterproductive, there. "If I drive more, I'll donate more!" Maybe carbon offset would be the way to go after all.
Mar. 28th, 2012 01:47 am (UTC)
How about, "If I indulge in better internet access, I can do more to promote a good charity that might really solve the problem"?

Decreasing our own usage of, say, gasoline won't help the environment. It will just make gasoline cheaper for the SUVs and the bulldozers.
Mar. 28th, 2012 02:43 am (UTC)
Self-imposed luxury tax
zestyping had a nice idea of "Personal Consumption Offsets" -- 100% matching on non-essential purchases with donations to an effective aid organization:


He's been doing it for two years now, and seems to be happy with the result. It's probably pretty similar to what Mad and I have been doing:

Mar. 28th, 2012 02:54 am (UTC)
Re: Self-imposed luxury tax
Cool, thanks.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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