02 June 2014
Jobs, the environment, and resposibility to adapt
New federal rules designed to reduce carbon emissions over a 16-year period are predictably being criticized as job-killers, and not only by predictable Republicans but also by Democratic candidates in coal states who fear that the new policy will be a personal job-killer for them. Of course, you can also find environmentalists to complain that the new rules still aren't adequate to the climate crisis, but it isn't part of an activist's job to be satisfied. In any event, the activist and the candidate have different interests to calculate, the employer and employee others still. How do we sort out all their contradictory claims on government? Two observations might guide us. First, the survival of the environment, objectively speaking, shouldn't be subject to votes if we understand its survival as a fundamental imperative of government. This point is negatively conceded by those who oppose regulation by denying a crisis. Life is not to be sacrificed to "freedom;" government exists in the first place to regulate freedom for the sake of life, if government is anything but the rule of one clique or class over others. Are jobs not to be sacrificed? The self-styled pro-business party tells us so. They mean that government is not to sacrifice private-sector jobs for any so-called public purpose. Business itself, of course, may sacrifice jobs for any reason it pleases, and if anyone protests business blames government. Let's agree that, in the present theoretical case, someone -- public or private sector -- should take responsibility for retraining and finding new work for anyone who might be unemployed by the new regulations. It would be more than many private employers do when they decide that jobs must be sacrificed to the bottom line. When that happens, the unemployed are told that they must adapt in order to compete in the global economy. Their economics obliges us to adapt to people's ambitions, but denies any imperative to adapt to climate change until a way can be found to do it profitably. Until then they deny the need to adapt -- but nature isn't subject to a vote, and for all the big talk about a natural right to do business, nature isn't likely to respect it in the long run. Why should we?