When Your House is on Fire…

This past week our class addressed an argumentative piece that perhaps had a somewhat misleading analogy. In discussing climate change, the author of this particular work suggested that climate change is much like having your own house on fire. However, when we look at this analogy a little closer, there are some logical inconsistencies that become apparent: when dealing with climate change it is important to note that a)All humans are implicated in its causes/effects (the whole world didn’t set your house on fire, nor is it responsible for putting it out) b)We cannot simply leave the damage behind, as we are stuck here on Earth (as opposed to being able to walk out the front door of a burning house) – and – c)You are directly responsible on some level for the now pending consequences of climate change (you may or may not have directly caused the fire in your own home). While the author’s intent behind using the “burning house analogy” is well-founded in principle, it is not a perfect fit as a metaphor for climate change.

And in truth, it is fairly difficult to think of a perfect metaphor for this particular situation. I must admit that I really struggled in trying to think of something better. Many of my initial thoughts on an alternative analogy were completely ill-founded in their premise, and I’m not entirely sure the analogy I thought of is any truer in its validity. For me, I envision the problem of climate change as a “Tragedy of the Commons,” where everyone implicated in a particular problem has more incentive to act in their own self-interest than in the greater good. Such a situation could be illustrated with the idea of a fisherman who lives in a village by a small lake. The only large industry in this town is fishing, and it is far and away the most pursued vocation. This particular fisherman knows that if the town continues to fish at its current rate, there will be soon be no more fish left in the lake. However, if the fisherman stops fishing entirely, he knows he will have no viable income to support his family, in addition to the fact that his competitors will just keep fishing anyway. This creates a dilemma because the fisherman knows that he is directly contributing to the problem, but will nonetheless continue to fish since everyone else knowingly does the same. The problem that arises from this is that short term personal gains are more valued than long term group interests. Consequently, the worst possible outcome occurs in the long run even though it is known that current actions will undoubtedly create this result. ¬†As a result of not directly addressing the problem in the first place, the inevitable outcome is more consequential than taking a new course of action.

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