Why Gore is not a Hypocrite

Stentor summarizes three rebuttals of the conservative argument that Gore is a hypocrite for preaching reducing emissions while having a huge electric bill. Two he agrees with; one he doesn’t, but makes an argument against it that I think shows, in a strictly Machiavellian way, why Gore is not a hypocrite. Says Stentor,

3) Gore does so much good work on this issue that he deserves to be allowed to be a little wasteful in his personal habits.

The problem is, argument 3 is not a valid one. It essentially says that the more you talk the talk, the less you need to walk the walk. Can you imagine anyone saying “you know, Mark Foley did so much good chairing the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children that he deserves to hit on a few pages. He earned it!” Of course not.

Actually, comparing environmentalism to not abusing teenagers is exactly why arguments from hypocrisy fall short here. Sexual abuse is an individual problem: the abuser hurts the abused individually. In contrast, environmental degradation is a collective problem, a tragedy of the commons: reckless energy consumers collective put a strain on natural resources and pump CO2 into the air.

It, of course, gets subtler than that. There are sexual abuse issues that are collective, especially if you believe that media images promote violence (and I don’t). And there are environmental issues caused by individual action; for example, a factory that dumps arsenic in a river is harming people’s health without regard for what other polluters do. Yet other issues straddle the line by being based on a tragedy of the commons among only a few actors.

However, energy use is very clearly a collective rather than an individual problem, so it makes no sense to talk about Gore’s immoral use of energy. Unlike in the case raping a single person to prevent ten from being raped, there is no real moral dilemma around issues that never affect people except collectively. If Gore causes less carbon to be emitted than he emits himself by a combination of carbon credits and activism, which we can assume he does, he’s a net energy saver.

There is possibly a meta issue around Gore’s energy use – namely, the fact that symbolically, if he uses less energy then people will take him more seriously. However, this is never the argument that’s peddled against him. Blogs like Common Sense Political Thought instead laugh at how Gore leaves the peons to conserve and pays his way out of his dues. But is conservation a moral tax to pay or a way of helping people? A rich person who contributes $30 billion to the eradication of AIDS is after all not told that he must fly to Africa and prescribe anti-retrovirals in remote villages to be credible.

And even if they did, it would in itself promote more carbon emissions. It’s acceptable for an impartial analyst to note that Gore’s energy use is causing people to take him less seriously. It’s not acceptable for a conservative activist to tell people not to take Gore seriously because he makes himself vulnerable to not being taken seriously. That kind of concern trolling should be reserved for party politics rather than for real issues, such as conserving energy.

12 Responses to Why Gore is not a Hypocrite

  1. muppt says:

    Al Gore’s is Smaller Than Yours! his carbon footprint that is.

  2. muppt says:

    Al Gore’s is very very small, mine is huge!

  3. SLC says:

    Re muppt

    All Canadians are small.

  4. SLC says:

    Another factor which is not taken into account relative to Mr. Gores’ carbon footprint is the source of the electrical energy he consumes. If his electricity is supplied by the TVA, a substantial fraction of it comes from hydroelectric and nuclear fission, both of which have very small carbon footprints. Thus his actual carbon footprint may be smaller then someone living in the Midwest where most of the electricity comes from burning coal. Of course, one wouldn’t expect his right wing c***sucking critics to consider that aspect.

  5. Ran Halprin says:


    Maybe its time to stop the billions of dollars support to Egypt?

  6. muppt says:

    we must build more nuclear power plants!

  7. muppt says:

    nuclear power is the best clean and renewable energy source!

  8. SLC says:

    Re muppt

    Put all the nuclear power plants in Canada so that a terrorist attack will spread the radioactivity there.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Ran, I’d appreciate it if you at least tried posting comments that have something to do with the thread’s subject. That, or you could make me laugh the way Muppt does.

  10. SLC says:

    Re Levy/Halprin

    Mr. Halprin is just a little frustrated because Mr. Levy has been somewhat off his feed relative to his Israel bashing proclivities.

  11. Stentor says:

    his right wing c***sucking critics

    Interesting — I hadn’t realized the Log Cabin Republicans were behind this.

  12. Julkbluefly says:

    Terrific page. hope to definitely come back again soon=)

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