The Lileks Zone

Reason #8: Because they want my money

Climategate is quite surprising, really. Those of us disinclined to hop around fluttering our hands in a non-stop spasm of eco-panic thought the dispute was over interpretation of data, not data cooked so expertly you expected the scientists to be awarded five stars by Gourmet magazine. It doesn’t change some minds, of course. To this day I hear the same question: Why don’t you believe the science?

Reason #1: Because they say the science is SETTLED. Sorry: nothing is settled. Kirk died four Star Trek movies ago and I still expect him to show up in Shanter form in the next one.

Reason #2: We’re supposed to Question Authority, right? I read a bumpersticker that said something along those lines. If you’ll let me Question Authority, I’ll grant that you can’t hug your child with nuclear arms, to quote another bumpersticker. Deal?

Reason #3: I grew up hearing one ecological disaster scenario after the other, and believed I would be eating Soylent Green on a glacier with wooly mammoths on one side and the busted husk of the Statue of Liberty on the other. Also smart apes and possibly zombies.

Reason #4: It’s probably due mostly solar activity and other natural cycles. People are always freaked out about the weather being hinky.

Reason #5: It could be the above, plus us. If so, I don’t think it’s a cataclysm ready to happen. Even if it is, I have zero faith that anything will be done about it, but this is the worst-case scenarios, and I’m not interested in dwelling on those, and they make for bad policy.

Reason #6: Because I don’t believe the people who believe not only The Settled Science, but a vast zesty assortment of ideas that seem to be based on a gut-level guilt and smug self-flattering notions unexamined since college.

Such as: Organic food is better. because chemicals are bad. “Chemicals,” in this case, means smelly clear liquids pumped out from a big spout labeled DOW DEATH SAUCE; a bald man in a lab coat with a dueling scar, an eyepatch AND a monocle walks around sampling the chemicals, barking commands like “Needs more cancer! And Red #4! Also a touch of nutmeg!” These false, unnatural substances have managed to take the essential components of natural fertilizer and make them unholy. Or so some think. If you put out two carrots, tell someone that Carrot #1 was fertilized with chemicals made in gleaming pristine factories where well-paid workers have a great health plan, and Carrot #2, which was fertilized with manure hand-packed by unskilled laborers who made minimum wage. Take your choice! Oh, and I’m not going to rinse it off first.

Turns out organic isn’t anything special, aside from its magical ability to make people pay twice the price for lettuce blessed by the “organic” designation. It can also make you just as sick as ordinary food if you don’t wash off Mother Nature’s Fertilizer. Eco-holy sounds a bit like e.coli, when you say it aloud.

But for some, the idea is counterintuitive. It cannot be right. It makes no sense to say that organic isn’t better than non-organic, just as it makes no sense to say that nuclear power is safe. Don’t argue facts with them; they have unimpeachable sources: Jane Fonda AND Meryl Streep.

Of course, it’s not fair to reject an international consensus based on a series of arguments with a relative who believes the oceans will slosh across Minnesota in a few years unless we start acting like Europeans, and take the train everywhere and live in houses so small you have to grease the hallways so two people can pass at the same time without resorting to leapfrog. This particular relative became the most vehement when discussing the shameful illumination of the downtown office towers. Really: What some might see as a beacon of Progress and Civilization, she saw as an earth-killing folly. (Apparently the Eiffel Tower – and the rest of the City of Light – is lit up by billions of volunteer fireflies.) If you should say well, let’s build another nuclear power plant, it’s like suggesting we shovel plutonium into premature-infant wards or napalm the Amazon or – heaven forbid – drill for oil somewhere. These are dangerous, irrational notions. Solar and wind, wind and solar. And a five-dollar tax on gas. When I tried to note how such a tax would be inflationary, given the amount of foods transported by train and truck, the argument promptly segued into cant (Europeans do it), casuistry (we should buy everything from local producers anyway) to the inevitable bottom line: we can’t go on like this.

Like how? CONSUMING! Consuming what? THINGS? Which things? THINGS PEOPLE DON’T NEED! Ah. This category is invariably stuffed with items the speaker finds useless or excessive, as opposed to the essential items like espresso makers, French wine, nice furniture, and a TV set that’s big enough to show a good indie movie but not so big you’d be tempted to rent “Transformers,” or anything. It’s those people living in McMansions in the suburbs we have to do something about. The ones who have to drive everywhere. If we can make them live in the city in sustainable huts insulated with hemp with a trolley clanging past every 10 minutes, buying what they need from a co-op, biking to work, straining their urine to use for laundry bleach, and otherwise living sustainably.

How about you just suburban people live as they like, but make air travel to Europe or Asia prohibitively expensive? Cut down on emissions that way.

No, that would be barbaric. Oh, and another thing about Americans: not only do they consume too much, they don’t have passports.

So you’d be happier if the people in the suburbs got passports and took stinky jets all over the world, polluting even more?

Well, they could see how other people live, and realize that the American way isn’t the best.

Whose is, then? I have no problem admitting that the French way is the best for France, since that’s how France turned out, and given the absence of blood in the gutters and leaders’ heads bouncing into baskets, it seems they like it. Likewise I am comfortable with the American way, in all its glorious options. I’m likewise comfortable with the advances and freedoms of Western Civilization. Always room for improvement. But these people want to knock it down by half, and they use fear and panic to do so. Always doom for improvement, if you will.

Reason #7: Because Al Gore is worried about it. That sealed the deal a long time ago.

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