It’s your footprint. What is it to me?

Gareth Hughes, an obviously earnest young man, writing in the NZ Herald recently, advises us breathlessly to take all manner of feel-good actions to stave off global warming and prevent any further drain on the national grid. As though the national grid was not supposed to supply energy for our use. That we pay for.

He seems to take the view that the Earth is a fragile, sensitive object that, without the most rigorous balancing of resources to ensure what is called “sustainability” (but which is never defined), might never recover from the ravages of this human life upon it. Never mind that animals, birds and fish rage and stamp, consume and defecate their mindless ways above, across and under it and in the oceans in their millions willy-nilly. What they do is natural but everything we do is unnatural, artificial—even inhuman, perhaps. Certainly endlessly disagreeable.

He ignores the fact of the Earth’s complete recovery from every catastrophe it has either caused to itself or suffered at our hands. But given the scale of natural disasters including asteroid strikes, tectonic plate movements, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, great storms and even ice ages, our puny efforts to destroy it hurt us more than it. We can flatten the occasional small mountaintop or two, but the Earth can, and will, destroy every mountain. So, though it deserves our care (and we care for ourselves in fact when we care for our Earth) and we have made big mistakes, yet the Earth is nowhere near so delicate nor so short-lived as Hughes would have us believe.

The scars it carries from its own processes are gargantuan; the pin-pricks from Man’s puny works are… well, puny, and they’ll disappear entirely within just a couple of thousand years. Look at what’s left of ancient Egypt. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

But I take exception to a point he tries to make regarding the carbon footprints of our visitors.

A return trip from Britain to New Zealand emits 7.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide — about the same as the per capita emissions of a Swedish citizen over a year.

Wow. So is that a lot of carbon dioxide, then? He doesn’t say, but goes on coyly:

Many will be looking to the New Zealand Government to reassure them that we’re serious about our response to climate change.

Why would “many” want government reassurance that “we” are serious? If the many are serious, they need no reassurance of that. If “we” are serious, the government needs not reassure the many—we can do that ourselves. Presumably he wants the government to be serious about responding to global warming climate change on our behalf. But his grammar, like his reference to carbon footprints and no doubt like his thinking, is obscure.

If he means the government should extend a hand in friendship and offset those travel emissions, then why doesn’t he say so? Instead, he says, even more enigmatically:

In an age when driving an SUV is akin to wearing fur we will have to make a special bid in climate-change terms for them to feel good about travelling to New Zealand.

So we must feel properly guilty when driving our motor vehicles—point taken.

But what possible justification can there be to make us pay for others to come here? On our arrival in, say, Rome, who expects an announcement that the Italians have paid for the carbon footprint we incurred to get there? The idea’s absurd. The only people expected not to take responsibility for their own carbon footprint are those in developing countries (apparently we in the affluent countries should pay for all of theirs). But I digress.

If tourists want to travel here, they can jolly well accept the full cost of doing so. You clearly wouldn’t agree, Gareth, but please explain why not.

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