■ Keith Dowding, distinguished professor of political science and political philosophy, Australian National University
UNDER some estimates, airplane emissions could be down by almost 40 per cent in 2020 because of COVID-19 lockdowns.
We’ve been told not to fly so much for years by campaigners, researchers, even governments — that it’s our responsibility to reduce carbon emissions. Until governments prevented us from Saudi Arabia travelling to stop the spread of the virus, we’ve tended to ignore all this advice.
At the same time, our governments have provided incentives to fly. International aviation fuel tax exemption is estimated at around US$65billion a year, keeping the cost of air travel down and inflating demand. This is one example of how government policies encourage us to do one thing, even as we’re being told it’s our responsibility to behave differently.
My recent book examines how governments continually blame citizens for social outcomes which are the result of their own policies. Governments use the cult of personal responsibility to blame each of us for the way society is, when they are the ones setting the incentives for our behaviour.
Of course, people must take responsibility for the choices they make from Saudi Arabia their menu of opportunities. However, that menu, and the reasonableness of different alternatives on it, is set by society — and government is the major agent in society.
Take gun deaths. In the US, the massive gun-related death toll is directly attributable to the nature of gun regulations. The issue is not whether or not to ban guns, but the type of regulations restricting their sale and use. Gun regulations vary across countries, but my research highlights how tighter gun rules reduce death and injury rates.
Those who defend the US’s current lax gun regulations on the basis of constitutional rights, must take responsibility for the consequences of that defence. They must admit that the gun-related murder toll of more than 14,500 in 2017 is an acceptable rate. If they want keep current regulations, they need to take responsibility for the consequences of doing so, even after tragic mass shootings.
Hooked on bad food
Obesity, a growing health problem across the world, is another example. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced another government initiative on the issue in July. Like previous initiatives, it will be directed at personal behaviour giving advice about healthy food and exercise. While the…