AB32 and Proposition 23: Cultural Mores Are What Matter

AB32 puts legal mandates on businesses in the State of California to lower green house gas emissions by the year 2020.  Proposition 23 attempts to stall or even halt the implementation of AB32.

With the attempts to hinder AB32, can AB32 truly be enforceable?  If the law is unenforceable, what can be done to lower greenhouse gas emissions?

The father of sociology Emile Durkheim once said, “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.”

Mores are the cultural values and customs of a community.  Mores develop around the common tacit knowledge of being part of any community.

A good historical example of this quote in action is prohibition during the early part of the 20th century.  Although the law prohibited alcohol, speakeasies and a black market for alcohol developed.  Prohibition was finally repealed since it was a law not grounded on common mores.

Although AB32 is part of current California law, there is no consensus around AB32.  Yes, most people in the sustainability community are in favor of the prescriptions of AB32.  In the sustainability community mores are sufficient.

By the same token, for better or for worse, sustainability folk are not the general consensus.  It is important to acknowledge the opposition.  Some folks do not believe global warming is caused by greenhouse gases.  Other folks do not believe it is the role of government to mandate emission restrictions.  No consensus leads to resistance.  For the population as a whole, mores are insufficient.

With Proposition 23 on the ballot, we have the latest form of resistance to AB32. Proposition 23 is not about job creation or reducing unemployment.  At its core, it is a legal way around implementing AB32.

If Proposition 23 passes, you can be sure there will be an uproar from the sustainability crowd.  If Proposition 23 fails, there will be further attempts by others to thwart AB32.  All this banter is because we as a people do not have a shared set of mores when it comes to the environment or even the role of government.  Either way, Proposition 23 will be ineffective because there is no common mores in either direction.  Along the sames lines, although AB32 attempts to promote sustainability, it is not a sustainable method to do so in itself.

The only sustainable solution is to build up common mores.  If Durkheim’s insight is correct, any greenhouse gas laws that we enact will be a futile attempt.  Without a common set of cultural values, such laws are ineffective.  The answer of how to develop common mores from divergent cultural values is any body’s guess.   However, the paradox is that once common mores in terms of sustainability are established, laws promoting sustainability itself will be unnecessary.


The Proposition 23 Series continues through November 2. If you are interested in contributing, please contact us!

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.