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June 1, 2006

Watermelons Anyone?

Another Hollywood environmentalist is at it again – predicting that eco-cataclysm is only a decade away. But this Hollywood environmentalist is a transplant.

At an event in New York City, sponsored by Wired Magazine, former Vice President and now Hollywood Producer Al Gore, suggested to his audience that the environmental “tipping point” was coming – or as he put it, “the point of no return.”

In January, Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm said, “You know, Al is a funny guy, but he’s also a very serious guy who believes humans may have only 10 years left to save the planet from turning into a total frying pan.” Laurie David, Larry’s wife, was a guest of Mr. Gore’s at the New York event.

Mr. Gore is currently plugging his new movie called, An Inconvenient Truth. Such hyperbole should be expected from someone selling a movie.

Global warming is serious science. It’s still in its relative infancy. But it’s also become a political tool worth far more than protecting a few species, swamps, or beaches. And Al Gore is merely following a grand tradition.

Another Hollywood environmentalist, Ted Danson, issued a similar apocalyptic statement about our oceans in 1988.

And Earth Day 1970 featured these statements by Paul Ehrlich,

  • In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish…
  • Five years is all we have left if we are going to preserve any kind of quality in the world.

Ehrlich and Danson were wrong. Al Gore will be as well. Does this mean global warming isn’t a problem? No.

But when it comes to the claims about global warming, we should all be skeptics. Big claims require big evidence.

The evidence here that global warming is driving humanity to, as Al Gore put it, “a collision between our civilization and the planet,” is still debatable and therefore not quite large enough to meet the claim.

And there’s even less evidence for the even bigger claim that human activity can be modified in such a way that we can reverse global warming trends.

And there’s an even bigger problem than those two issues combined. Even if you assume that global warming is the dire problem Al Gore says it is AND you can demonstrate that changes in human activity could solve the problem, you still have the problem of competing values.

Henry Hazlitt in his crucial book, Economics In One Lesson, focused on the issue of, “what is seen and what is unseen.” Sure, you can build models of environmental damage and the damaging effects that will follow. But how many lives are lengthened and saved by the very technologies that are allegedly destroying the environment?

Air conditioning, for example, uses seemingly unnecessary power and dangerous chemicals. But it also saves lives, as we learn the hard way during every heat wave. Fossil fuel vehicles help deliver safe food, provide medical assistance, and more. Higher prices or outright bans on these technologies will harm some people.

How many lives should be sacrificed to save the environment? Al Gore’s methodology can’t answer that question. But Gore is after something bigger here.

The inflammatory claims of guys like Ehrlich, Danson, and Gore are designed to scare people into action – to send them rushing into the arms of some savior. There are still closet-Marxists all over the place. They still believe our economy needs to be “intelligently designed.” And the best Designers/saviors happen to be guys like Al Gore!

Environmental Apocalypticism means more government control.

Here’s how Christine Stewart, former Canadian Environment Minister, put it:
No matter if the science is all phony, there are collateral environmental benefits…. climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.

Louis Proyect of Columbia University goes a bit further:
The answer to global warming is in the abolition of private property and production for human need. A socialist world would place an enormous priority an alternative energy sources. This is what ecologically-minded socialists have been exploring…

Ah, Big Government – a novel solution. So Al Gore and his ilk are a lot like watermelons – green on the outside, Red on the inside.

Can we dismiss the hyperbole and rest on our laurels? No.

But a far better approach to environmental stewardship rests in two easy steps.

  1. Persuasion that the public should care enough about this issue to consider changing some of their habits. The more honest scholars in the field have suggested that marginal changes do indeed matter.
  2. As the market demand for environmentally friendly products increases, entrepreneurs and inventors will meet that demand with services that will radically change our world for the better.
  3. Our growing ability to do more-and-more with less-and-less promises to do far more to solve environmental problems than any top-down politically designed solution could ever hope to achieve.
    Being able to live better while also polluting less and consuming less energy is a very real possibility, and offers a win-win outcome for everyone without having to condemn rich and poor alike to a hopeless future.

Let’s face it. All of this Hollywood, scare-tactic, tipping-point prognosticating isn’t healthy or helpful. Can you imagine some scientist in 1906 trying to figure out how 300 million people living in 2006 were going to clean up all the horse manure on our streets? Let’s leave the silly predictions to The Star and The National Enquirer. Let’s grow up and leave the failed policies of watermelon politics behind. Instead, let’s pursue a path of Human Progress based on cultural persuasion and technological innovation, rather than Big Government force.

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