Sustainability and Green Economics

Moral Leverage

As a magnificent function of the brain’s reticular activating system, we tend to need heroes and villains to ascribe the good and bad things that happen in the world that were beyond our control or means. When a hero does a good deed, we further justify that he had the means, such as cash from a successful business, inherited the family fortune, was a top-of-the class MIT graduate or born on the planet Krypton. It was something we weren’t given nor had access to that justifies why we were not the hero. Similarly when something goes wrong, we look for the villain; the CEO who made the decision to dangerously exploit oil reserves thousands of feet underground, the amoral politician who allowed higher emission levels in the interest of receiving higher election funding, or the contradictory academics whose arguments on the fundamental issues of global warming give doubt to the merits of pursuing green technologies. We are creatures of immense rational and emotional development to the extent that we can feel the pain of other’s suffering, but just enough pain to excuse the inaction especially when watched on the television and the suffering is 7000 miles away, or just outside the limits of our neighborhood. We have an amazingly developed brain that allows us to ‘mirror’ the feelings of others in suffering; to feel as though such suffering was imposed upon us. And then we have another amazing part of the brain called rationality that allows us to detract from that pitiful feeling, to go on with our daily lives without feeling so much guilt that it causes some action on our part to prioritize our needs for self gratification since that is foremost, we have to make it to the office on time to do a good job so we can make the 10% bonus next year, and with any luck, get noticed enough to make vice president in 20 year’s time. Not that ambition should be malevolent, but realistically, we can have much more of an impact with the same effort in the natural world that we could ever in the corporate world.