What, Me Sacrifice?

Just to double-check that all the glowing accounts of the sacrifices that the "greatest generation" made during World War II weren't just nostalgia-laced propaganda, I called my favorite 80-year old. Sure enough, she remembered the rationing of gasoline and butter, Victory Gardens and--this one is particularly hard to imagine--saving aluminum foil rather than tossing it after a use or two.

These thoughts came to mind after the Live Earth concerts and the MoveOn-sponsored candidates' debate on climate change, both last Saturday. At the concerts, performers urged us to . . . turn off the shower while we shaved our legs. Among the six "actions against the climate crisis" we were asked to pledge were changing four standard light bulbs in our home to compact fluorescents, buying energy-efficient appliances, shutting off energy-using equipment when not in use, and riding public transit or carpooling once a week.

Flicking off the light switch when I leave a room now counts as doing my part to avert a climate crisis? Isn't it great to live in a time when it's so easy to feel virtuous?

The candidates weren't much more inspiring. John Edwards spoke eloquently about the need for "green collar" jobs, but also pledged to drive down the cost of electricity---an excellent move if you want to encourage people to use more of it, which increases emissions of greenhouse gases (unless you get your juice from nuclear power, solar or wind, as few of us do). Gov. Bill Richardson vowed that, if he won the White House, he would cut U.S. greenhouse emissions 80% by 2040; Sen. Chris Dodd is aiming for an 80% cut by 2050 as well as a "corporate carbon tax" to raise $50 billion that would be used to spur development of alternative fuels. Neither said how, though in fairness they weren't given much time to answer. Sen. Barack Obama came closer to specifying a strategy, vowing to implement a cap-and-trade system and auctioning off permits to pollute, with the revenue going to R&D of clean energy. And Sen. Joe Biden promised that in his White House all vehicles for the federal fleet would get 40 mpg or more, and all new federal buildings would be green. Sen. Hillary Clinton pronounced herself "intrigued" by a cap-and-trade system with permits auctioned off. (All the Republican candidates were invited to participate in this online debate, taking a question from one MoveOn member; none did.)

Nothing from any of our would-be leaders that might make people examine the way they live----nothing about giving up gas-guzzling cars or rolling back energy-hogging houses. Not a hint that merely reducing the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere will allow atmospheric concentrations to keep rising. Based on my totally nonscientific survey, most people seem to think that if we cut emissions by, say, 80%, then the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also falls by 80%. Sorry, but it rises--just more slowly than if emissions kept rising as they have been. True cuts might require--gasp---sacrifice.

I had higher hopes for the MoveOn members gathered to watch the debate. There was lots of enthusiasm for the climate cause, and a real hunger for advice about how to live in a climate-friendly way. The most concrete suggestion about how "you" can make a difference? Buy stocks in environmentally-friendly companies, such as solar energy firms.

Did someone say sacrifice?