The Clare hills, South Australia
With climate change, how long will this scene remain as it is?
Photo taken 2005/09/27
On one hand politicians know very well that a great many people decide who to vote for based on selfishness; "What's in it for me?" is one of the questions that people ask when they are deciding what party to vote for at an election. Questions such as "What is best for the nation?" or "What is fairest for the most people?" or "What is best for the future of the planet and coming generations?" are given a much lower priority by most voters.
On the other hand, many people volunteer a great deal of their time for things like emergency fire services, ambulance services, local community groups, school committees, country show societies and service clubs.
Think of all the people who have written articles for Wikipedia; they are not paid, generally their names are not even made known to the people who read the articles that they write. Most of these people have specialist knowledge that they share freely. They must, in many cases, when the article is on a contentious subject, go to considerable trouble to check that it is not corrupted by more dishonest people. Wikipedia, it seems to me, is one of mankind's greatest and most unsung recent achievements.
On a personal level, I can think of many of my Facebook friends, who I have often chosen because they tend far more to altruism than selfishness.
|Our vehicles||Choose a noisy motorbike or modify a car to make its exhaust noisy because you like the sound||Choose a quiet vehicle because you don't want to annoy all the people who will hear it|
|Throw rubbish out of the car window onto the roadside because that is the easiest thing to do||Dispose of your rubbish responsibly|
|Travel||Whatever is easiest||Consider the environmental implications of you actions: walk, ride a bike or use public transport when practical to minimise your environmental impact.|
|Consumption||Buy anything you like with no consideration for how long it will last or its environmental impacts during production or disposal.||Consider where the things you buy were made, how they were made, how long they will last and how they will be disposed of at the end of their useful lives. Consider the lifetime environmental implications of the things you buy.|
|Your spare time||Enjoy yourself; have fun; play a sport.||Do voluntary work for a charity; work in a community park or garden; join a service club (and actively work for the community, don't just go to meetings); become politically active and press for a better world in one way or another; do what your abilities and limitations allow you to do for your community.|
|Take away coffee||Get a throwaway coffee cup because it is the easiest thing to do||Buy yourself a 'keepcup' and get that filled when you want a coffee (see Responsible Mid-North) so that you don't add to the amount of rubbish going to landfill.|
|A wind farm is proposed nearby||Object because you don't want to have to see nearby turbines or sometimes hear them (an example is below).||Support the project because it will displace electricity generated by burning fossil fuels, it will provide local employment, work for local contractors and businesses, income for the turbine-hosting farmers and a generous community enhancement fund.|
|Election||Vote for the party that promises you the most: the biggest tax cuts, the best services. In Australia at least, selfish people would tend to vote for parties other than the Greens.||Vote for the party that you feel looks after everyone fairly and considers the future (of the planet and coming generations of people). In Australia at least, altruists would tend to vote for the Greens.|
|Australia has huge resources in both coal and renewable energy||The coal industry is well established, is supported by monied interests, and brings in export income. A government also supporting it seems to be the best option for the short term (so long as they don't look at the long term, the international or environmental implications). A government looking after only itself will not concern itself much with any consequences of its actions that will come after its term in office.||Urgently develop renewable energy to replace the coal industry because the latter is one of the main causes of climate change, ocean acidification and causes a huge number of deaths and illnesses due to the air pollution resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.|
|Climate change||President Trump took the USA out of the Paris Accord (which aims to limit climate changing emissions) because he saw that as being in the short-term financial interest of the country.||Almost all other nations that joined in the Paris Accord have remained in because of the recognised need for serious action on climate change.|
|Australia's Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have done their best to slow the development of renewable energy; apparently because that was in the interest of the big mining businesses that funded the governing parties, the Liberal/National Coalition||Supporting the fastest possible growth of renewable energy and speeding the closing of coal mines and coal fired power stations would be the best course for the long-term advantage of Australia and for the future of the planet.|
|Together with the above governments some very wealthy in influential people are trying to discredit climate scientists for their own purposes. It has been reported that Gina Rinehart, who has billions of dollars invested in coal mining, has donated millions of dollars to the anti-renewable energy Australian Institute of Public Affairs. Rupert Murdoch, leader of the News empire, has encouraged the employees of News Limited to undermine the need for climate action for years. These people, together with the others mentioned above, deserve being ranked among the greatest criminals in the history of mankind for the harm that they are doing to the planet and future generations.||
poll was carried out on 1,200 Australians from 14-17th November 2018. The poll's main aim was looking into the relative positions of the Australian Labor party and the Liberal/National coalition, but I found the results of a question on energy policy to be particularly interesting in relation to the subject of this page: selfishness or altruism.
The question was: "When thinking about energy policy, which of the following do you think should be the main priority for the Federal Government?"
Below is the result as it was displayed on the Ipsos Internet page.
It is interesting to translate the results into selfish and altruistic answers. Reducing household bills and reducing the risk of power blackouts are both primarily self-centred aims; a person thinking only of themselves would give these aims a high priority. Reducing emissions is much more an altruistic aim; a person thinking of the future of the earth and all life on the earth would give this a high priority.
In the table below I have ignored the answers of 'other' and 'don't know'.
In Australia the One Nation is the most right-wing, Liberal/National coalition next, the Greens most left leaning, and Labor somewhere in between coalition and Greens. I would expect similar results from other nations.
Wikipedia describes ideological groupings of right or left as:
"Generally, the left-wing is characterized by an emphasis on "ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism" while the right-wing is characterized by an emphasis on "notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism"."
From the results of the electricity poll above it seems plain that left-leaning people are the more altruistic, right-leaning people the most selfish. I wonder what would be the effect of labelling them selfish instead of right and altruistic instead of left?
An afterthoughtIt could be stupidity and/or ignorance rather than selfishness. I could well believe that One Nation voters are too stupid or too ill-informed to understand the disastrous potential of climate change for example.
The Crystal Brook Energy Park if built, will reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by about 600,000 tonnes per year. In July 2018 I was waiting on a decision by the state government to either allow or disallow the building of an Energy Park that, if built, will combine a wind farm, a solar farm, a 'big battery' and possibly a hydrogen generating facility.
Unfortunately there was a vocal and dishonest opposition group. Should the opponents manage to stop the development:
Wind power opposition has been based on selfishness; some people simply don't want nearby wind turbines.
The opposition to something like a nearby wind farm seems to be contagious; I suspect that people think "well my neighbour is opposing this, if it's OK for him to be selfish it is OK for me to be selfish". I suspect that if more people were outspoken in voicing the desperate need for renewable energy the selfish people would be less likely to publicly display their selfishness.
Barnaby Joyce, previously Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, has much the same attitude. He says that Australia produces only a small percentage of the world's greenhouse emissions so why should we stop building coal-fired power stations? He ignores the relevant facts: Australia ranks 53rd in the world in population, but sixth in the world in the CO2 produced by its electricity industry; it has 0.3% of the world's population, but produces 1.2% of the world's greenhouse gasses; it is well up among the worst greenhouse polluters on the planet. Mr Joyce wants Australians to look after the short-term interests of Australia and ignore climate change and the future of the planet; if all, or even if many, world leaders thought selfishly like Mr Joyce we would get no action on climate change.
executive pay is out of proportion to the income of the great majority. Executives demand obscene rates of pay because they are selfish and because they can get them.
Investors and executives in the fossil fuel industries rubbish renewable energy because it is a risk to their financial position; they are being selfish.
Many people throw rubbish onto roadsides. It's easy to do, it's selfish, it harms the world in a number of ways.
On a similar scale of selfishness to rubbishing the roadsides is the modification of cars to make the exhaust more noisy. It may please the owner, but will annoy almost everyone else.
We must change away from burning the fossil fuels that are causing climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise and air pollution that is killing millions of people each year. If a nearby wind farm is proposed we can be selfish and oppose it or we can take a wider, more altruistic, view and support it for the good of the planet.
When selfishness is destroying the world it's not OK to be selfish.
A small altruistic act
Why are so few people willing to make this very small
contribution to their community?
Climate change action or power billsIn mid 2018 the federal Liberal Coalition government would have us believe that Australian people don't care about renewable energy and climate change, they apparently think that the Australian people are selfish and care far more about their electricity bills than the future of the world. Are they right?
Of course, in their
opposition to sustainable energy they are ignoring the fact that we can have all three: lower power prices, renewable energy, and action on climate change.
We can be altruistic and act for the good of all at the same time as looking after ourselves in this case.
In the insect worldWhen bees sting to protect their community they are giving their lives in what is probably the ultimate act of altruism.
Even bacteriaIn the book A Crack in Creation by Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg, the authors write:
"Bacterial cells have even developed methods to sense an oncoming infection (by bacteriophages) and commit suicide before it can progress – a selfless way of protecting the greater bacterial community."
About 10% of Australian people vote for the Greens, I'd guess that the world-wide figure would be much the same. If 90% of people are selfish and only 10% altruistic, can we wonder at the mess the world is in?
This impression of the altruism of greens voters compared to the selfishness of others (particularly coalition and One Nation) is supported by the results from a poll on electricity supply priorities elsewhere on this page.
Religion is delusional, but all the main world religions encourage altruism rather than selfishness. Is the decline in religion connected to the apparent increase in selfishness that we are seeing?
Was the fear of eternal damnation or being reincarnated as a cockroach enough to make people think a bit less about themselves and more of others? Is human nature such that many of us will behave selfishly unless we are convinced that it is in our own interests to consider the desires and welfare of others?
I suggest that if philosophy and
ethics was taught in schools it might make up to some extent for the decline in religious belief.
For myself I think my main motivation is that I want to feel that I am of some value to the society (and biosphere) in which I live.
Think of the good that could be done in this world with US$55 million!
Wikipedia reports that over three billion of the world's people live on less than $2.50 a day. That is $912 a year. So 60,000 people could live on $55 million dollars for a year!
Even more important than the irresponsibility of the financial self-indulgence is the consumption of resources and greenhouse emissions involved in a short space flight or a short stay in orbit. The burning of fossil fuels is widely recognised as the main cause of climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise and ocean warming.
In mid-2021 Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are both hoping to offer very short flights that just get into space. In The Lex Column of the Australian Financial Review, 2021/07/11, Why space flights’ green credentials don’t fly, it is stated that CO2 emissions per passenger, per mile is 12 kilograms while, for comparison, another notoriously high-emissions activity, flying business class (worse in itself than flying tourist class) produces only 0.2 kilograms per person per mile.
Ashamed to be Australian?