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.