Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why should consumer choice be sacrosant?

Consumer choice is not going to drive the combat of climate change.

Post WWII, humanity began a drive to share wealth and freedoms for the common good through the construction of public hospitals, and schools. Living standards were raised and class divisions broken down.

By the 1980's people felt more comfortable and less vulnerable, the war was now long gone, and people began to question the spending of money on such intangible long term benefits. The post war good will began to break down.

Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980's began to suggest that there really is no such thing as a society and investors could single handedly make the world a better place and contraints on trade began to be viewed as burdensome.

This rhetoric has proved to be wildly successful electorally in many countries. Reagan and Thatcher had managed to foist their view of personal and consumer choice as an article of faith. Such financial disasters as Enron,and Hurricane Katrina have failed to shake the widespread belief that the market will someday, somehow solve our problems.

Are consumer best suited to make informed choices? Are there not situations where more straight forward regulation might be more effective?

Climate Change and its science is quite robust and its obvious we need to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately the consumer is emotionally attached to it's driver lifestyle and status symbols.

Governments and businesses need to stay popular. Businesses have to provide products as cheap as possible and governments have to let you have your cake and eat it too.

So who exactly will be responsible for providing potential solutions to climate change? To many it's our elected representatives. They have to change the rules under which individuals and businesses compete and making the hard choices for society's long term good.

Maintaining our business as usual approach just encourages people to continue to buy cheap inefficient products. As well, if governments do not step up, businesses fear being undercut and losing market share should they ever incur discretionary, yet responsible costs which are being avoided by the competition.

Its shocking but the major argument against making slavery illegal was whether it was economically justified! Shocking to hear in todays reality.

Short term profits should not be used to justify emissions standards nor keeping fuel costs low.

We must learn to accept that consumer choice cannot be expected to solve complex, large scale problems. Governments have to step up and roll out legislation; giving all the responsibilty to markets and consumers is not enough.

We need to remove the worst products from the market and build environmental costs into prices and give low carbon alternatives a chance of getting established.


Unfortunately, our current government belongs to the group that thinks unrestricted business will fix all that ails us. Funny how it so far it has done the opposite.

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