So one impulse in lifestyle environmentalism is to make more basic modern commodities and goods more expensive — more like luxury goods. That way fewer of them will be produced. The externalization of costs onto the future will be disrupted by being priced in, somehow. The Prince Williams and Pete Buttigiegs of the world will likely not have to reduce their consumption. New, sin-style taxes on unclean energy and more stringent regulation of beef will be navigated rather easily by the rich. They can afford to be ‘minimalist’ and buy experiences, can’t they? Meanwhile these same measures drive the less fortunate to look for yellow vests, pitchforks, or at least the nearest populist running for office.
It’s quite true that thoughtlessness has costs. But it’s a myth that plastic straws are a serious environmental problem, or that paper ones are a very good solution. There are far better ways of reducing the amount of waste, pollution, and plastic that goes into the ocean. Telling those less fortunate than you that the great advancements of food production, air-conditioning, and air travel will have to be withdrawn from them for their own good may provide a momentary thrill for our modern-day preachers of simplicity, but it is, itself, thoughtless. Fewer children, less protein for them, more deaths from heat exhaustion, and less travel isn’t a morally superior future; it’s just a parsimonious and more impoverished one.