Turning Green to Gold, Part One of Two

An early version of this essay was published in 2007

For several years, the weather in the Upper Midwest has been nearly intolerable.  The Winter of 2018-19, which we escaped by exiling ourselves in Sicily, was among the coldest in recorded history, while the Summers have been, for the most part, an unpleasant mix of heat and humidity, punctuated by a few cool stretches drowned in torrential rains and the rising waters of rivers three feet above flood stage.  

Like the United States, Europe has been oscillating between hot and cold summers in which records are broken.  Whether the days are hot, cold, or in-between, Former Vice President Gore and anyone who saw the movie The Day After Tomorrow offer the inevitable answer: Global Warming. Excuse me, please, I meant to say: Manmade global climate change.

Perhaps the Greens are right.  I know about as much of climatology and meteorology as I know of French literary theory, but the same can be said of the former Vice President and most activist environmental activists.  The other side, naturally, points out the sloppy reasoning and bad science of the Greens, but, with a few notable exceptions, few of the opponents of the Global Warming theory know any more science than Al Gore, and that is saying a great deal.  

Mr. Limbaugh, who is better informed than most conservatives, simply cannot bring himself to admit that man is capable, in this new millennium, of poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat, much less of inducing a climate change, which, at the very least, is destroying wilderness all over the planet.  But then, if you listen to the “bumper music” he has chosen for his program, Rush is immune to the charms not just of art but of beauty. 

As for me, I simply do not know and, more to the point, I can probably never know enough to make an informed judgment.  A man might spend twenty years reading reports from the Sierra Club and the Climate Reality Project, on the one hand, and AEI and the Cato Institute on the other,  and know little more than the positions each side claims to believe in.  Que sais-je?  If the polar icecaps are truly melting, stranding all those sweet and cuddly polar bears, I can only say, with Louis XV, “Après moi le déluge.”

The debate, we are told repeatedly by the wise and scientifically educated gentlemen of the press, is over.  Global Warming—excuse me, again: Manmade Climate Change—is a reality.  The management of Enterprise Rent-A-Car Rental (and dozens of other corporations) are convinced, and they personally are going to do something too prevent the catastrophe.  I am sure these captains of commerce are sincere man in their attachment to the green stuff, but if I believed as they do, I should not be taking little baby steps, such as offering flex-cars, to reduce emissions when I could destroy my entire fleet of cars and trucks and quit feeding the carbon dioxide monkey that sits on the backs of American consumers.  

Ordinary people like you and me, who are neither experts nor ideologues, should treat the impending climatic cataclysm with some caution.  When I was a child, the newspapers convinced me that if I drank milk I would die young from cancer, and my corpse would glow in the dark from all the radioactive Strontium 90 I had consumed.  I have drunk milk all my life and contine to drag my decrepit carcass through a daily routine that differs little from that of three decades ago.  Perhaps they exaggerated the threat.  

Free-market economists like to point to the late 19th century prognostication that by the 1920’s the streets of London would be buried many feet depth in horse manure.  What they conclude from this is that new technology—in this case the automobile—always comes along to save the day.  However, their argument is not quite right.  In the first place, automobiles have created vastly more problems—environmental pollution, the destruction of cities, the dislocation of populations—but more significantly, they have betrayed their own optimism.  It is an insult, both to England and to human nature, to assume that Londoners, an intelligent and enterprising people, could only be saved from their déluge of manure by the likes of Henry Ford.

We all like to be a little bit afraid of the dark, and nothing is darker than the future.  In the 1930’s and 40’s, we could lie awake at night, worrying about Nazi Germany and nationalist Japan.  During the Cold War, the threat of Communism inspired visions of nations, one by one around the world, collapsing like a long line of dominos. Proponents of the domino theory did not pause to examine their metaphor: Dominos do not fall over by accident or of themselves; they have to be set up by the children who plan the collapse.  How many people in say Japan or Italy really wanted to worship the corpse of Joe Stalin?

These days we have transferred our fears, if we are  Conservative, to Islamic terrorism, or, if we are Liberals, to environmental catastrophe.  It is not that Muslims and air pollution are not serious threats to our security and health, but they are instrumentalized, as our European friends would say, for political purposes.  To continue the Cold War analogy, poor George Kennan, the architect of our containment policy, was soon dismayed by the reckless policies pursued by saber-rattling politicians, eager to show that they had the guts to stand up to the Russians.  The same Conservatives who used to ridicule me and my colleagues for warning against the threat of Islam have instrumentalized Islamophobia to such an extent it makes my stomach queasy.

In the much the same way, Greenies would like to terrify us into totalitarian measures designed to eliminate human civilization—if not humanity itself—from the planet.  Manmade Global Climate Change (finally) is the latest proof that our way of life, especially our bourgeois individualism and weird attachment to private property, is evil.  Earlier generations, with more justification, might have referred to the wrath of God visited upon a guilty nation.  But we are not a nation of believers but a random conglomeration of consumers, who “all dwell together to make money from each another.”  We spent the last century worshipping only our belly and the organs located a little below the belly, and now we must be afraid of things that go hiss in the night—hair sprays and room deodorizers, though I understand that some Warmalists now think fluorocarbons are good and tons of hairspray should be released into the atmosphere. 

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

11 Responses

  1. Roger McGrath says:

    “Greenies would like to terrify us into totalitarian measures . . . .” Hasn’t this always been the modus operandi of the Left. Sometimes I think there are only two kinds of people on earth–those who want maximize freedom and political liberty and those who want to maximize safety, security, and equality. Attempts to achieve the latter have always resulted in authoritarian and often totalitarian control. I think the division in the two kinds of people comes deep emotional and psychological drives and not from intelligence and education. I’ve know brilliant people on the freedom side and brilliant people on the control side. I’ve know highly educated people on the freedom side and highly educated people on the control side. There’s that old saying commonly attributed to Winston Churchill, “If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative when you are old, you haven’t a brain.” I think that’s true only to a degree. It’s been my experience that most people are fixed in their perspectives fairly young. Don’t expect Greta Thunberg to become a staunch conservation at age 35. It’s also been my experience that more often than not those on the Left tend to be the more hysterical types–and that means “climate change” has an especial appeal for them. “The sky is falling!” I like to mention to them that the climate has always been changing–for 4 1/2 billion years it’s been changing. That change is the result of the sun and of volcanic activity here on earth or an occasional meteorite. All of a sudden man is the controlling factor? Man’s more important than the sun or volcanic activity or a meteorite? As PFC Smithy in the Marine Corps would say, “You’ve got to be shittin’ me.” When the argument was global warming–before it was demonstrated that temperatures over the last 20 years have not increased and the argument shifted to climate change–I was fond of mentioning the many Ice Ages the earth has experienced and that the end of the most recent Ice Age began about 15,000 years ago when man was of little significance here on earth. We’ve been warming ever since but that warming has been interrupted by periods of cooling and accelerated by spurts in temperature increases. Again, was man an agent in any of this. The only reason the Norse could settle in Greenland was because of a warm period in the North Atlantic, circa 800-1300. What did man do to warm northern climes during that period? Then, too, there have been the Little Ice Ages. As big as man’s ego is and as much as the Left wants to control things, the climate is beyond us. All this is not to say we can’t destroy our local environments through deforestation, over grazing, polluting water, soil, and air, etc. Finally, if anyone who deigns to read this thinks it’s the product of less than a fully functioning brain, he may be on to something. When growing up, every Friday night my mom served us fish–red snapper fresh from Santa Monica Bay. It was later learned that fish from Santa Monica Bay contained mercury and other heavy medals from dumping industrial pollutants and debris at a point five miles out–thought to be safe. So cut me some slack!

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks, Roger. When we are told that manmade climate change is a reality, I cam accept that cheerfully. By most ecological theory, everything that happens affects everything else.I am sure there is cow-made climate change, and tree-made climate change, and most certainly sunspot-made climate change. Of course when the say “reality,” they mean scientific consensus, like the consensus on phlogiston, spontaneous generation, and phrenology.

    Oh but that was before modern science. Listen, friends, I got a call about a dozen years ago from a world-famous scientist who wanted me to help him locate funding for a project to study and combat the hole in the ozone layer that was threatening our planet. I demurred, expressing some doubt at the reliability of shot-term studies. “Oh no, I was told by this genuinely great scientific mind, this is real. Well, mankind has been smoking up and spraying up the world since the hole was discovered in 1982, and NASA reported in 2019 that the hole was the smallest it had ever

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    been since its discovery.

  4. James D. says:

    I imagine that if your instruments were sensitive enough, a match struck in an airplane hangar would produce a measurable rise in temperature. Does that qualify as man-made warming?

  5. Dot says:

    The “greenies” are living in the future. There is a saying attributed to Lao Tzu that says, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” The greenies need to live in the present one day at a time. The jet stream has something to say about the weather too.

  6. Steven Lakoff says:

    If there is one subject that should be mandatory for everyone it is Philosophy of Science. You don’t need to do complex calculations and laborious observation to know when a scientist is talking nonsense. You can look at the method and determine that.

  7. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I once taught a course, along with a scientist, on ancient science. The students were roughly half classics and humanities majors and half science majors. One of the two or three best students was a biology/pre-med major who liked the course but dropped out because he could not be sure of getting an A. He had his future to worry about and was in danger of getting a B. His idea of non-science courses was that they were crips he could get through without working. I smiled and told him he was quite right and thought to myself, he can spend his life getting rich by pulling tonsils, yanking appendices, and treating hysterical women with tranqs. I say to you he has had his reward.

  8. Konstantin Solodov says:

    «Sometimes I think there are only two kinds of people on earth–those who want maximize freedom and those who want to maximize equality»

    I don’t know about earth but the dispute about universals (ante rem, in re or post rem) in west culture is still actual.

    Two households, both alike in dignity,
    In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
    From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
    Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

  9. Clyde Wilson says:

    I can remember that not too long ago, people were alarmed about the return of the Ice Age rather than global warming.

  10. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    When the conversation goes back to the Ice Age, will anyone remember the Global Warming hysteria? Only unreliable traitors…

  11. Clyde Wilson says:

    Greenism is popular because it allows mediocre people to present themselves as wise and virtuous, but, of course, it is only one more sign of their herd mentality.