There are no strictly rational grounds for making personal sacrifices for the climate
In 2005, the philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong wrote a paper, It’s Not My Fault, arguing that none of us has a moral obligation to reduce our carbon emissions. He didn’t deny the looming emergency; he simply couldn’t see, after running through the available ethical theories, how it could be my duty not to go on Sunday drives in my gas-guzzling SUV (to use his example). “No storms or floods or droughts or heatwaves can be traced to my individual act of driving,” he wrote. It’s true that lots of people driving, collectively, helps to cause storms and floods, but I’m not lots of people. And it misses the point to respond that you can calculate, say, the precise area of lost Arctic sea ice corresponding to one passenger’s transatlantic flight. You can – but I want to know that if I forgo the flight, the ice is likely to remain. And, thanks to the systemic nature of the climate crisis, that’s the link that can’t be made.
Sinnott-Armstrong’s argument often enrages people who think of themselves as environmentalists. But I think that’s a reaction to the fear that he’s right – that there are no strictly rational grounds for making personal sacrifices for the climate. (In the same way, it’s often noted, it seems irrational to vote in an election, given the infinitesimal chance of your vote swinging the result.) And when it seems as if there’s no rational case for doing something, it’s extremely tempting to just not do it.