The Emperor’s New Cigarettes: A Parable for a Polluted World

September 10, 2022 by Joshua
in Nature, Stories

In the spirit of The Emperor’s New Clothes, although this parable doesn’t contain an emperor or clothes, I feel like it exposes self-important foolishness we see around us.

aviation airplane pollution

It emerged from an email exchange I had with someone who flies a lot and sent a group message about a disaster in the news from glaciers melting, attributed to global warming. I wrote him, “If only there was something we could do to stop destroying the environment. Most people’s greatest contribution is flying, if they are among the few percent who fly internationally or more than once a year. Do you think it’s possible for people to fly less, or should we just accept that people who pollute the most ruin cause such problems?”

He responded, “Have you determined what % of carbon emissions are from airplanes? I’ll bet it’s under 1%”

As part of my response I wrote:

Imagine someone smoked a special kind of cigarette. It costs a lot, but causes cancer in other people, not the smoker, mainly people poorer than the smoker. So the smoker gets the pleasure of smoking, creates jobs, and helps the economy, but other people get sick from it.

Imagine you suggested that person curb this activity that makes other people sick.

Imagine that person replying, “it doesn’t hurt them that much.”

I thought of adding that I grew up considering personal responsibility important, but decided to leave it out.

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