How do people respond to evidence of their own privilege? Some will deny it. They’ll try to tell you that earning $90,000+ per year makes them a middle income earner. Others will ignore it. And others still will try to justify it — they’ll say they deserve to be better off than others, or that a system that creates income and wealth differences ultimately benefits everyone.
But some people will confront their privilege head on. And when they do, they may decide that they don’t deserve it and that their advantages don’t always benefit people who are less well off than they are. One response to this is to feel guilty. Guilt is an extremely unpleasant emotion. And the risk is that we’ll take shortcuts to make it go away.
Many people believe that our current patterns of energy consumption are unsustainable. The carbon emissions we generate when drive our cars, cool our houses and fly between cities are contributing to potentially catastrophic climate change — change that will affect less privileged people far more than it will affect us. In the future, people will look back at how we lived, and they will condemn us for it.
The risk is that governments will create policies that help privileged people to feel less guilty but that don’t actually reduce carbon emissions. In a couple of recent posts at Translations, Joel Pringle argues that the NSW Solar Bonus Scheme was exactly that kind of policy. In his most recent post on the issue he writes:
The politics of the issue are quite simple: people like to feel as if they are contributing to carbon emission reductions, and measure their success in ways that are easy to see and simple to understand (put solar panel on roof, reduce reliance on evil coal-fired power stations, be a good person). And Governments love giving voters money for things that are popular among voters, even if the popularity is misguided.