The Clare hills, South Australia
With climate change, how long will this beautiful 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, charity goodwill stores, 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 as Facebook friends because they tend far more to altruism than selfishness.
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.
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.
To act in ways that do not consider the needs of future generations, both human and non-human, is selfish in the extreme, but is typical of human behaviour in the early 21st century.
When selfishness is destroying the world it's not OK to be selfish.
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 the 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, misinformation and lies; some people simply don't want nearby wind turbines. It is interesting to compare opposition to wind power developments to opposition to coal mining, which is mostly honest, well informed, altruistic, very well justified and based on good ethical principles.
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.
Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama teaches about compassion for all of humanity. A noble and good aim.
Where I disagree with both is how far our compassion should extend.
In regard to Singer's idea, why should we place a child on the other side of the world ahead of an endangered creature anywhere on the planet? In regard to the Dalai Lama's idea, why should we have more compassion for humans than for other sentient beings - or for that matter non-sentient beings? Why should humans have more rights and be better looked after than animals?
I've dug out the plants in the image. They were adjacent a shared-use (walking and cycling) path adjacent to the Len Howard Conservation Park near where I live. Had they been left the weed could easily have invaded the park.
In another reserve area, against the coast, there were about 50 of these plants adjacent to a 300 metre section of path through what I believe is otherwise mostly native bush. They could be removed in an hour or so. (I have often removed 200 in less than an hour). Dozens of people would walk past these weeds every day.
Does the fact that no one bothers removing these particular plants say something about how little the great majority of people care for our shared environment? Or would the main problem be ignorance?
Give some time and effort to our communitySo many people look after their own gardens with great care, yet do nothing at all for the parks and paths in their communities. I find this mystifying.
If our children and grandchildren are to have a planet to live on that is not greatly inferior to the one that we enjoy we must place the good of our environment first.
Unfortunately that that goes against human nature:
Just one example I"ve seen today was people running the engine of a car parked under shade to keep the car cool, when just having the windows open would have been comfortable.
Is it that people don't care, that they don't think, that caring for the environment is not a high enough priority to be at the top of their minds? Do they simply not consider the consequences of their actions? Any or all of the above?
Why are so few people willing to make this very small
contribution to their community?
Are they right? It would seem so.
Of course, in the federal liberal/National coalition's
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.
Is this the way it has to be?
Religion is delusional and religions have caused enormous harm, cruelty and killing, 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 (Judao-Christianity-Islam) or being reincarnated as a cockroach (Buddhism and Hinduism) 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.
A boat such as this could be used for fishing, but it would be bought mostly, I would think, for the thrill of travelling over the water at high speed. And like all big and expensive boats, to impress one's friends and possibly business associates.
Obviously it would use a lot of (fossil) fuel and produce a lot of carbon dioxide. Sadly, many, perhaps most, people don't seem to care about their personal additions to the climate change problem. The typical person who would buy a boat such as this would probably produce twenty-times, or even a hundred-times, the greenhouse gasses than an average third world person (see below).
Unlike the boat above, this one does have interior accommodation, probably including a couple of bunks.
Self-indulgences such as these, in a country and a world in which many people have trouble feeding their children, seems to me to be quite obscene.
On this graph each person in the top 10% in wealth in North America produces, an average, 73 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum while the bottom 50% in South and South-East Asia each produce only 1 tonne. (The second graph - not shown here - records that the bottom 50% in Sub-Saharan Africa each, on average, produce only 0.5 tonnes per annum.)
Putting this another way, a wealthy person in North America is responsible for about 73 times the emissions of a poor person in South and South-East Asia and about 150 times the emissions of a poor person in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For myself I think my main motivation in doing anything altruistic is that I want to feel that I am of some value to the community, 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.
Related external pagesSelfish Altruism: A Win-Win?; by Jessica Exton on The Decision Lab
The man who proved that altruism is selfish; by Nicola Davis for The Guardian - about "the strange life of scientist George Price".
Is altruism selfish? poses some interesting questions that are worth thinking about
Related pages on this siteA number of related pages are linked to in the text.
Ashamed to be Australian?
A small altruistic act
Are people basically selfish or altruistic?
Climate change action or power bills
Several more examples of selfish and altruistic behaviour
Few people care
Humanity or all life?
Poll on electricity supply priorities; self or all?
Ultimate selfish act?
Use of jetty
Will humanity ever put the environment first?
A nearby wind farm
Wikipedia, an exercise in altruism
Weeds in public places
Why be altruistic?