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Dealing with Tu quoque arguments (Hypocrisy)

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by tigerade, Jul 16, 2014.

  1. tigerade

    tigerade Member

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    There's a recent editorial by Tom Steyer that made me think - How Climate Change Changed Me - POLITICO Magazine

    After reading it, and reading the comments section below, I think it's worth having a discussion over how to handle Tuo quoque arguments in regards to the environmental/climate debate. I'm actually a little surprised I haven't thought of it more before. Anyway, it seems apparent to me that any major public figure, whether a businessman, celebrity or politician speaks out to the public with concerns on climate change, there are immediately questions about that person's own fossil fuel investments and carbon footprint. To a certain extent I am fine with this, I do agree with the argument that those of us who care about climate change should be doing the most to try to shrink our own carbon footprint.

    However, I think something is being lost here. Virtually every single person in the Western hemisphere has benefited from fossil fuel use or has used a good deal of fossil fuels themselves. The fact that so many people use fossil fuels does not change the physics of increased greenhouse gas emissions trapping heat in the atmosphere and disrupting the climate. They are two separate arguments and should logically not be coupled (Argument 1: "You are using a lot of fossil fuels yourself", Argument 2: "Climate change is a problem"). I actually think Tuo quoque arguments are mostly used as emotional arguments. For example the argument of "We should all be reducing our fossil fuel use to avoid serious climate change" is often responded with "But you use a lot of fossil fuels yourself!". Notice that the responder did not address the argument of whether or not reducing fossil fuel use would avoid serious climate change, instead created a new ad hominem argument about the presenter's own fossil fuel use. Do you see where I'm going with this?

    So what do I think should be done in response to frequent appeals to hypocrisy in the climate debate? I'm not claiming to have the answer, just the desire to start a conversation that I think is important. It's almost like an intimidation tactic. I think a lot of people are scared to say something about climate change because they are afraid that their own carbon footprint will be scrutinized. I'm not saying it shouldn't be, but look at it this way: If everyone who has benefited from fossil fuel use were to stay mum in the climate debate, then it is clear that nothing will be done to reduce civilization's dependence on fossil fuels regardless of whatever environmental calamity follows it. In fact, after reading Tom Steyer's editorial, I think it takes a big man to admit you were wrong to invest so much in fossil fuels to then turn around and change course, and invest that money instead in clean energy and environmental advocacy. In fact, I would like to add that if the Koch Bros came out tomorrow and said that they were doing everything possible to reverse course and promote clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I would be the first to support them. It's not going to happen, but it's a fun thought.

    I really think the hypocrisy question is a skeleton we need to get out of our closet and address. It's not of an issue of one person's pride, but of an issue of human civilization doing what it needs to do to avoid an environmental disaster. Not only do I think that it would be extremely helpful for fossil fuel investors like Tom Steyer to reverse course and help out with climate action, the success of climate action itself could depend on it. I really am open to anything, anything reasonable that can be done to make that happen. After all, it's our future.
     
  2. AudubonB

    AudubonB Mild-mannered Moderator Lord Vetinari*

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    We hosted two days ago a gentleman who exclaimed that he almost cried when he saw the Trans-Alaska Pipeline snaking its way through the wilderness here, as he drove south on the Richardson Highway.

    I observed that he so emoted as he was driving a gasoline-powered vehicle, but did not belabor the point. Over breakfast the next morning, he told me he understood my point of view but that his opinion had not changed.

    So I related as how we certainly make use of fossil fuels here, pointing out my diesel-powered excavator, loader and so on, but then I noted how we do try to the extent feasible to minimize our fossil fuel footprint - we heat almost exclusively with wood, pre-heat our water with solar, generate 100% of our visitor-season electricity with solar....and drive a Tesla.

    Boom! He glommed onto that last like a duck on a june bug. "Do you know how many gallons of fuel went into creating that Tesla?", he asked.

    Wow...I could see we were going to get nowhere real fast, so I then asked this man of cloth whether he was willing to take the argument of conservation to its extreme end. He took the bait and awaited my response: "That is, of course, to have no progeny". As he is of the opinion that the earth exists to benefit mankind, he took unkindly to that.
     
  3. Canuck

    Canuck Active Member

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    Unless this person is family or a business acquaintance, I think life's too short to voluntarily associate with these types of people.
     
  4. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    I'm not convinced that 'Hypocrisy' is really the right word... most of us aren't asking anyone to do anything that we aren't already doing ourselves... If I was advocating Solar Panels and Electric Cars while buying my power from a coal plant and driving an H2 THAT would be hypocrisy. Yes, we've all benefited from fossil fuels but that was a different time before there were viable options.
     
  5. AudubonB

    AudubonB Mild-mannered Moderator Lord Vetinari*

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    I am in the service business - he was a client. Extremely pleasant in all other aspects presented to me.
     
  6. igotzzoom

    igotzzoom Member

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    The fact of the matter is, the Model S is out of the reach of the majority of new car buyers, as are substantial solar arrays on everyone's rooftops. Thankfully, the situation for both is changing in terms of affordability. A lot of nascent "green" technologies are quite expensive, and in the short-term cost/benefit analysis, a lot of people don't see them as worth the premium over conventional equivalents. I remember my wife nearly lost it when I bought a set of Philips LED bulbs for $40 each a few years ago. They're 1/4 of that price now and dropping.

    I think convincing people of the painlessness of conservation in the mid-term is the best way to change minds in the interim. Turning off your A/C when you leave the house, shutting off lights, etc. When the Model III comes out, I predict you will see a LOT of them on the road by 2020. People "get it" generally, but they don't like making sacrifices of functionality and style.
     
  7. dhrivnak

    dhrivnak Active Member

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    #7 dhrivnak, Jul 19, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2014
    I think it is very important that we (or at least I) do everything possible to reduce our carbon footprint. If not we lose all credibility. Even though I thought I was green when I cranked through the numbers I was 5% ABOVE average. Over the last 4 years we have dropped our CO2 70% and thus are well below average. Even those who care less about CO2 do seem to be impressed with energy savings (down $3500/year) or the very cool car or the self sufficiency. There are many paths. We just need to be heading down the ones pointed in the generally right direction.
     
  8. nwdiver

    nwdiver Active Member

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    My Motto; Conservation without Deprivation :cool:
     
  9. tigerade

    tigerade Member

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    Exactly. EXACTLY. You are right on target.

    And it really drives me crazy. There are a depressingly high number of people who think my goal is to create some kind of socialist, top-down command and control dystopia where every American is forced to drive small cars, have no appliances and limited water and electricity. That is not the case at all. So why do I keep hearing it? Is that what is being said on talk radio and so-called "news" channels? If we can both increase our quality of living and dramatically cut carbon emissions, I am all for it. In fact, I think that we are quality of life is going to get a lot worse long-term if we stay with fossil-fuels. So the choice between having a good life and having low-emission technology is a false dichotomy. But how the heck do we get that idea out of the heads of possibly millions of intellectual lightweights? I am not sure, but I would bet we do it one person at a time. You guys are doing a fantastic job of representing not only EV's but low emissions technology in general.
     
  10. igotzzoom

    igotzzoom Member

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    I'd much rather have a few extra bucks in my pocket to take a trip or go out for a nice dinner than give it to the power company. My all-time high power bill was about $190, but it's typically $70-93 in the summer, and between $35-50 in the winter. I'm in a 1,200 sq ft condo. Probably helps I live in coastal California, too. :smile:
     
  11. Tedkidd

    Tedkidd Member

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    +1, +1
     
  12. RichardC

    RichardC Cdn Sig & Solar Supporter

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    #12 RichardC, Jul 19, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2014
    Absolutely correct! Today:

    The Leaf, Tesla, BMW i3, Mercedes B Class and others are clearly establishing electricity as the preferred automotive fuel.

    Solar energy is increasingly competitive as the preferred source of electricity.

    Air source heat pumps are now a completely viable replacement for oil or gas for more than 99% of North American households and commercial properties, with ground source heat pumps able to serve most of the remaining properties.

    Even a modest price on carbon (which would fail to fully reflect the harm caused by the GHG emissions) would accelerate the ongoing adoption of these technologies.

    The alternative is fairly portrayed in The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future - Kindle edition by Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway. Professional Technical Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
     
  13. Tedkidd

    Tedkidd Member

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    I'm in the EE business, and air source heat pumps are so efficient its going to be increasingly difficult to justify Frack Gas simply based upon increasing monthly billing/meter charges.
     
  14. Robert.Boston

    Robert.Boston Model S VIN P01536

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    #14 Robert.Boston, Jul 22, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2014
    Remember that not everyone owns their own home or controls HVAC equipment choices. Many people rent or own condos in buildings with unified HVAC systems. So, while new ​installs may become increasingly more efficient (air source heat pumps), there's going to be a lag until existing equipment needs replacement.

    To the main subject of the thread: tu quoque isn't logically valid, but it certainly gets raised frequently. Think about the harumphing about Al Gore's high energy use at his house. The messenger and the message shouldn't be conflated, but it's frequently easier to attack the former than the latter.

    Personally, in discussions where a tu quoque or ad hominem argument comes up, I usually either (a) point out that the argument isn't about me and put the discussion back about the message or (b) flip it back to point to the other person. (A) is generally a better strategy, though, because once you get someone's back up, it's hard for them to hear what you're saying.
     

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