Summary: Climate change is a popular problem to solve because it looks easy and straightforward. The costs are mostly invisible and the dangers easy to imagine. Contrasted to this, the costs of the GWOT are highly visible and the dangers hard to imagine.
The costs of reducing carbon emissions will be borne by Someone Else, won’t they? We’ll make the auto manufacturers have higher gas standards, which will cost us an extra coupla hundred when we buy a new car, which is hardly ever. Painless. Plus we’ll be able to smile contentedly when all those yahoos have to ditch their SUV’s. They’re the ones ruining it for the rest of us, y’know. We’ll make the oil companies refine better, or look harder, or something. But mostly we’ll stop them from ripping us all off with their big salaries and stock options and whatever. Make them look under the sofa cushions for a change, the bastards.
It’s hard to imagine jobs that don’t get created, isn’t it? What do the jobs look like? Do they make things, or sell things, or move information, or what? So all that blather about slowing down the economy sounds dire in theory, but nobody actually gets hurt, right? Or at least we won’t be able to identify who got hurt. My job doesn’t have anything to do with oil. Conservation is the key. The kids have been bringing home save-the-environment posters from school for years with great ideas of how we can recycle and use less energy. It’s just a matter of putting your mind to it, like taking your vitamins or cutting down on fats. We can do it!
If we don’t do it, it means dead wallabies. Those are awful cute. Dead fish, which make the lake look gross. We’ll lose biodiversity, meaning that we’ll have fewer kinds of plants and animals, but more of each kind. And this is bad because… because eventually it gets away from you, and nothing can live anymore. We may have already passed the point of no return.
Hunks of glacier falling into the ocean, which makes the oceans rise. Fast. Didn’t you see the movie? Hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, all killing people and showing up on the news. That’s what will happen if we don’t reduce our carbon emissions now.
The opposite is true. Kyoto-style changes are going to cost you personally a bundle. Just because it’s not visible, like gas prices or an ATM fee, doesn’t mean it’s not real. It will be the better job you’ll never get, the lack of opportunity - which encourages your kids to move away, the year of college that you had to take on in debt, the fewer times you travel to see your grandkids. And the drastic environmental consequences you imagine aren’t going to happen. Aren’t going to happen because of carbon emissions, that is.
The GWOT, now, those costs actually are being borne by only a few. The cost to you actually is more like an ATM fee. It’s soldiers and their families that are paying the price. The cost to the US in citizen’s lives is not only a high cost, but a highly visible cost. Airport security delays are highly visible. (Phone surveillance can be made to seem highly visible, conjuring images of some creepy guy listening to your wife’s calls.) Also, the big numbers of dollars that fly across the page, the cumulative total of four years of war, that makes us nervous. We were spending about half that keeping Iraq contained anyway. Because it’s money spent, rather than money never made, we think of it as real money instead of pretend money, and of money in one lump sum instead of spread out over time. It’s an understandable error; but it’s still an error. If it’s that hard to imagine, try picturing yourself without a job, or one of your kids without a job. Money not made is real money.