In effect, people will start living far more environmentally-friendly lives.
Rubins emphasised that this change will not be because of some sort of ethical change in individuals but rather because they will be adapting to economic forces. (Although he certainly seems to relish these changes as significant improvements in the way we live our lives.)
This interview got me thinking about morality. Most of my life I have been someone who has pretty much seen the world through Puritan-coloured glasses. That is to say, I have had a tendency to look at what people do in terms of consequences with an emphasis on "right versus wrong". For example, when my friends go on vacation trips overseas I tend to fixate on the huge amounts of CO2 that their jet flight sends into the atmosphere, thereby adding to global warming. (As you might imagine, this makes me the life of the party.)
Listening to Mr. Rubin, the absurdity of my viewpoint was pretty obvious. Not because there are no consequences for our behaviour---such as wasting energy---but because it is wrong to think that human beings base their behaviour on moral reasoning. Instead, as near as I can tell, for most people morality is a much more of a "epiphenomenon" that is used to justify our behaviour which is almost always based on self-interest, emotion, habit, and so forth. As such, moral reasoning is sort of like Kipling's "just so stories" that try to explain why it is we do a certain thing without really doing much more than present a plausible fiction.
Take the example of women's liberation. In my lifetime I have seen a tremendous improvement in the choices available to women. But ultimately, I don't see much evidence that this has come about from masses of people changing their opinions because of consciousness-raising. As evidence for this, I would suggest the truism that all feminists will admit to---young women who have opportunities that are beyond their grandmothers wildest dreams steadfastly refuse to allow themselves to be labelled "feminists". If life is better for today's women, it is not because they have chosen to organise and fight for their rights!
If you look at women's liberation from the point of view of economics, however, this jarring disconnect makes sense. Women gained their liberation not because it is morally just, but rather because it was economically expedient.
First of all, in the 1960's the buying power of working-class jobs declined dramatically. This meant that it was no longer possible for men to work at a lower-middle-class job and support a household---complete with a stay-at-home wife. This means that in order to keep ahead of the credit card payments, the average family now has to have two breadwinners instead of one. When women began to bring in a significant fraction of the household's wealth, they began to have more say in how that home is organised.
Luckily, this decline in purchasing power happened at the same time that a whole new "service" sector was developing in the economy. This provided the huge numbers of jobs that were needed to give the wives work. But those jobs were significantly different from those of the manufacturing sector. They tended to be social in nature instead of numerical. That is to say, in a service job the the bottom line is whether or not the customer is satisfied. In a factory, it is how many widgets get turned out in an hour.
This new economic sector change has made a big change in the way our society sees things. So-called "women's work" has been to "keep things together" for the families and community. That means that they tended to place a greater value on harmony than on being "right". Men, on the other hand, have typically believed that none of the niceties matter as long as someone "produces". The language people used to use to describe a married couple illustrates this point: he is a "good provider" and she is "happy home-maker". In a service-based economy, being a "happy home-maker" has more value than a "good provider". In a world where "getting along" is increasingly important, we are changing the way we do politics, education and just about everything else to insert that new priority into the way we do things.
As a result of this change in the workplace, not only are women gaining in influence, but so-called "feminine values" (i.e. "getting along" versus "getting things done") are becoming more and more important. This shift in values is obvious at the academic library where I work. Increasingly, students do not sit at isolated carrels doing research on their own, but rather in groups that work together on projects.
In fact, I'm told that groups of individuals now take on-line exams together---and pool their knowledge using instant messaging software while actually doing the test. I suspect that if you asked these young people whether what they are doing is cheating, many of them wouldn't think so. This is because a cheat like this is only unfair if some people can do it and others cannot, and, you believe that the action being taken hides incompetence in the person being tested. In a world where information can be accessed instantly through the Internet, what real value is there in having facts in one's memory? Most of the jobs that these young people will end up filling will be ones where an ability to work together in a group is going to be far more important than being able to retain knowledge through individual study. As such, yet another values complex, i.e. "cheating", is changing in response to our economic and social reality.
I don't want to over-state the case. The women's liberation movement no doubt had some influence on the current improved status of women. And environmental groups will be able take some credit even if the increased price of oil is what finally prods people into living more sustainable lives. But, I don't think that any morally-based social movement in and of itself is capable to rendering real change in society.
In fact, it may very well be that in many cases the movement itself---and the moral viewpoint that informs it---is caused by the clash between different elements of a society that are experiencing different realities. The individual women who led the women's movement in the sixties may well have been the first fraction of the population who found themselves being significant "breadwinners" in dual-income families and chafed against a social system that was still very popular with the women who's husbands still "brought home the bacon". (I've certainly met women who would have loved to have been at home with the kids but had to work because of financial reasons. If someone has to be at work anyway, then they'd certainly want to get paid as much as men and force the boss to keep his hands to himself---.)
When I was working my way through this idea a passage in the Dao De Jing came to mind.
When the highest type of men hear the Way, with diligence they're able to practice it;
When the average men hear the Way, some things they retain and others they lose;
When the lowest type of men hear the Way, they laugh out loud at it.
If they didn't laugh at it, it couldn't be regarded as the Way.
At first glance the passage doesn't seem very apropos. But I suspect the reason why my subconscious seems to think it is, is because it is a statement about how the ultimate reality of life---the "Dao"---has both an objective element to it, yet at the same time is seen quite differently by individuals, depending on their own particular state-of-mind. Ideas are important because they animate people and create unity of purpose. But those ideas don't have traction with most people unless they fit into the day-to-day economic reality they inhabit. Object and subjective, a sage can see the multi-dimensional reality of an issue while the average man can only make a joke.