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  Prohibition was finally repealed since it was a law not grounded on common mores.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.

5 responses

  1. The California Jobs Initiative (CJI) is an oil corporation farce and fraud. There is no connection, whatsoever, between greenhouse gas emission reduction and the loss of jobs. This notion is an insult to the intelligence of the people of California. In fact, there is job growth in the clean, renewable energy industry. Chevron employs 65,000 worldwide and CJI is not going to change this. The only jobs created by the oil industry are clean-up jobs after oil spills and deep water, blow-outs and pump-handler jobs. CJI will make fantastic profits for the oil industry, increase air pollution, especially in communities around their refineries and there will not be lower gas prices. Koch Industries, Valero and Tesoro are super Enrons. Since when did the oil companies start to show any concern for the unemployed and their families and for small businesses?

  2. Jonathan – I think you’re technically correct here, but the fact is there will always be some people who will kick and scream when it comes to change – and if there also happen to be a lot of undecided people who can be influenced by the kicking and screaming, perhaps not to their benefit.

    I wish we didn’t need any laws! But unfortunately reality requires them. Prop 23, as my dear carbon copy commenter above says again, is a farce and a fraud. I assume you’re voting NO on it, so I’ll just say it again: VOTE NO ON 23!

  3. Doesn’t matter that companies are spending billions of dollars to leave California, and that it will only get worse when AB 32 is enforced. We’ve got to do something, even if it won’t work, even if it will bankrupt us.

    That is what you are saying if you vote against Prop 23.

    Vote yes for 23, it really is about jobs and the economy.

  4. It is interesting to not the comments on both sides of the spectrum, on the one side, Earl and Mark, and the other Wayne.

    My biggest qualm about Prop 23 is the round about way it is used to stop AB 32. There was some crafty thought put into the wording of the potential law to effectively rescind AB 32. Clever people, whoever thought it up.

  5. I have to wonder if AB 32 would have gone through, with anywhere near its onerous conditions for business, if today’s economy had been in place.

    When AB 32 went through, we had unemployment below 5%, the economy was in overdrive, and things looked golden. now, the opponents of Prop 23 don’t seem to believe those times will ever come back. How could they if they put out the misleading idea that 5.5% is so rare?

    At the very least, AB 32 needs to be rewritten. In it’s current form it truly is a job killer.

    Sacramento State University reports estimated cost of $3734 per year per family due strictly to AB 32. That is the equivalent of every family having to buy a new car every 5 years, but not being able to drive them, and not having anywhere near the economic stimulus that every family spending that much extra.

    I don’t know about you, but an extra $311 per month going out of my household would be a major burden, and it would eliminate many of the purchases that I make that truly stimulate the economy.

    CARB has admitted that California alone cannot have an impact on reducing global warming and CO2 emissions and EPA says the same thing for the US. That means that the whole global warming mitigation aspect of AB 32 is an absolute sham, that is going to put us on an even less competitive footing that other states and countries.

    LAO (CA Legislative Analyst Office) stated: CA economy at large will be adversely affected by implementation of climate-related policies that are not in place elsewhere. (Letter to Dan Logue, 13 May 2010) This tells me that the economic stimulus that AB 32 promoters claim is misleading as well.

    AB 43 promoters like to claim that the yes on 23 ads are misleading, but I argue that the no on 23 campaign is far more misleading.

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