This is the Achilles’ heel of focusing on individual carbon footprints. It’s difficult to get people to alter their behavior if they believe others won’t. That’s particularly true if there’s a personal cost to the behavior change, said Jan Brueckner, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “Relying on altruistic behavior is just not the way to tackle the global warming problem,” he told me in a recent interview. “You need government policies to induce mass changes in behavior, not individual ones.”

Brueckner’s preferred answer to the problem is a carbon tax. Impose a fee on sources of carbon dioxide, such as jet fuel, he explained, and the price of airline tickets will increase, nudging everyone, not just altruistic people, to fly less.

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