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Individual Guilt vs. the Guilt of the Commons


About 20 years ago, I came out to my grandfather. From 3912 miles away. Via a letter. Weeks later his snail-mail response arrived: He advised me to give up this "dirty habit", as though I were smoking tobacco!

Eventually my grandfather came around, but lots of people are still arguing over whether homosexuality is a choice. Usually the people who claim homosexuality is a choice are those who think homosexuals should not have equal rights under the law.

They seem to think that if your homosexual behavior was freely chosen, then you should be able to stop it, and that you should stop it. If your behavior was freely chosen, then you are to blame. You should feel guilty. If anything bad happens to you as a result of your homosexuality, it was your fault. You should accept your punishment, or change your behavior.

So, within this school of thought, proving that we homosexuals can't help ourselves is supposed to lift the guilt. If God made us this way, then we shouldn't be punished, we should be celebrated :o)

But isn't all this debate over whether homosexuality is a choice missing the real point? That homosexual orientations and actions, among consensual adults, are morally neutral, because the activities are mutually consensual and harmless. If you want to sell me a pair of shoes, and I want to buy that pair of shoes, nobody gets upset. Why should homosex be any different from shoes?

Heh, except there are lots of studies showing that gays and lesbians are more likely to be depressed, to abuse drugs, to commit suicide ... and don't forget sexually transmitted diseases!

If you can argue that homosexuals are less healthy, and that they bring their problems upon themselves by choice, then you can justify punishing them for their deviant "dirty habit".

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Similarly (wait, I'll explain), there's a big argument over whether recent climate trends have been caused by human activity, by human choices.

There's really no argument over whether the globe has become warmer since 1980. The satellite data are pretty clear. There's no argument over whether the globe has become warmer during the past 10,000 years, the retreat of the glaciers from Wisconsin is pretty clear. There's no argument that CO2 levels are higher now than they've been in 500,000 years, because of humans burning hydrocarbon fuels; thus, the correlation between CO2 and global warming.

But there's still a big argument over whether humans are to blame for climate change. Are humans bringing ecological disaster upon themselves?

If global temperatures were shown to be naturally cycling up and down as the result of solar activity, perhaps very few people would care. Because, then who would we blame? The sun? And what would we do about it? Punish the sun? Well, global temperatures are naturally cycling up and down ... we call that "seasons". We might complain about the extremes of hot and cold that we experience each summer and winter, but we don't assign blame for these annual 90 degree shifts in temperature. We don't worry about how to stop the cycling of the seasons.

In the midst of this natural cycling up and down, our scientists have detected a small shift, about one degree, of global warming over the last 25 years. If this shift is due to natural causes, would anybody care? But if this shift is due to human choices, such as the choice to drive a car, then obviously we should be punished. We should feel guilty. We should stop! God did not make us car drivers! ;-)

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I think global warming is a big issue for liberals for the same reason that gay marriage is a big issue for conservatives. Liberals think that humans have chosen to boil the planet. Conservatives think that humans have chosen to be gay. If the boiling or the gaying were thought to be natural, then nobody would care.

Well, how do we define "natural"? Why do liberals think it is natural for me to be gay, but not natural for me to burn hydrocarbons as fuel? Is it because we have found that other animal species have homosexuals also? But no other animal species drives cars. If a species other than humans does it, then it is natural. If humans are the only species that does it, then it is not natural.

So humans, by definition, are unnatural.

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The same scientists who worry about human-induced global warming have hypothesized that the earth experienced a natural form of global warming about 55 million years ago. Somehow, large deposits of greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere from inside the earth. This release raised global temperatures by about 10 degrees.

Humans weren't around back then, so we didn't cause it. That time it was natural. And there wasn't anybody to do anything about it.

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For a diffuse problem like greenhouse emissions & global warming, there is no individual blame. If you add up my personal CO2 footprint, you'll find that my personal emissions have no measurable effect on global climate. Neither do yours. If I cut my personal emissions by 70%, the climate will continue doing whatever it's gonna do. Ditto if I start driving an SUV to work each day. No effect. It's like the opposite of the Butterfly Effect. It's the Nothing Effect. Or maybe the Butterfly Nothing. Or the Nothing Nothing.

So I should feel no guilt. And neither should you. Global warming is not our fault. And there's nothing we can do about it.

The problem is not you and me. The problem is billions of humans burning billions of tons of hydrocarbon fuels. And the problem will only be solved if you successfully regulate the behavior of billions of humans. But how do you do that???

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We'll need a worldwide War on CO2. Sorta like the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror. How well have those Wars been going?

You see where this takes us, don't you? Black market emissions. A global Emissions Police. Emissions bribery and corruption. Poor countries that generate most of their GDP by defiantly emitting CO2. People secretly emitting CO2 in their basements.

There's just too much profit in CO2 to stop it entirely. Trillions of Dollars each year. It'll become the most valuable contraband in the history of humankind.


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