Politics & Policy

A Green Vanity Affair

Saving the world with good intentions.

Pulitzer Prize-potential pontificating is never more appropriate than in a journalistic exposé of heartless, power-hungry villains oppressing powerless victims and raping the Earth. And Vanity Fair’s 2007 Green Issue oozes with righteous indignation toward all those evil executive-branch politicians and big businesses which exploit the earth for power and profit.

Last year it was Al Gore, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Julia Roberts who were presented as representatives of a new breed of environmentalist. This year, Leonardo DiCaprio is V.F.’s eco-porn centerfold, dubbed not only an “Environmentalist” but even an “Eco-Hero.” It’s possible that Mr. DiCaprio earned these titles by dint of his personal efforts to reduce his carbon footprint. Then again, it may be that his appearance on V.F.’s cover has more to do with his celebrity and V.F.’s own corporate desire for profit. But perhaps I’m being too cynical.

There is all this shouting from the Left about how we must “do something” about global warming. As Bert once told Ernie on Sesame Street, “It’s easy to have ideas, but it’s not so easy to make them work.” So what, exactly, should we do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by enough to have a measurable impact on global temperatures in, say, the next 30 years? The standard cries of “George Bush is destroying the planet!” or “Big Oil is trying to silence its critics!” are not the most useful responses.

One gets the idea that solving the global-warming problem doesn’t actually depend upon real physical solutions — like developing a sufficiently clean technology capable of supplying a substantial portion of humanity’s increasing need for energy — but on good intentions and extreme disdain for big business and Republicans. Or maybe I’ve just missed the praise for the billions of dollars we are already investing in energy research.

One of V.F.’s green articles boasts of an electric car that rockets from 0 to 60 in only 4 seconds and “runs without a drop of gasoline.” Where would the clean electricity come from, if millions of us wanted to get one of these cars? A huge increase in nuclear power might do the trick.

The fact is, almost all of today’s popularized solutions to global warming would do little more than allow us to congratulate each other for “doing something.” Actually doing something substantive about global warming would be neither easy nor cheap. As is always the case, wealth diverted to making the environment cleaner is no longer available for other purposes. Access to abundant, inexpensive energy has enabled prosperity, good health, longevity, comfort, and convenience. Even if the 1° F warming over the last century is entirely due to mankind — a scientific claim which I find dubious — has that been such a terrible price to pay for our prosperity? How much prosperity are you willing to give up in order to prevent some (likely unmeasurable) portion of future global warming? Everyone considers himself an environmentalist until he gets the bill.

As much as it may seem that pollution is caused exclusively by cigar-chomping executives too selfish to prevent it, the blame must be spread more widely than that. Take V.F., for instance: unless the magazine’s journalists live in a world where physical laws have been repealed, they are constantly burning fuel. They sit at desks made of wood or from materials dug out of the ground, and they tap-tap-tap at computer keyboards which are powered by burning coal or decaying radioactive material. The energy consumption of corporations is caused not only, or even primarily, by the greedy executives, but by millions of willing employees, investors, and customers.

The glaring hypocrisy of the global-warming crowd would be more amusing if it weren’t so serious. We heap our pious contempt on big polluters when we’re the ones who are driving this pollution. We could simply stop our consuming, of course — though that’s certainly not what Al Gore and his ilk do: They simply purchase forgiveness in the form of carbon credits, thus avoiding the inconvenience of actually reducing their fossil-fuel use. As for me, I’m offsetting my carbon footprint by not cutting down the big trees in my backyard like I had planned to do.

Indeed, why does it seem that environmental concerns are almost exclusively a pastime of the affluent? Maybe because most of humanity is still too poor, too busy trying to make ends meet, and too busy tending to the sick and dying who don’t have access to clean water, refrigerated food, or modern health-care.

And what about those poster children for the global warming cause, the world’s poor? The latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report claims that they are the most vulnerable to climate change. Even if man-induced climate change does end up being serious, the biggest threat to the poor will remain poverty. Alleviating poverty requires access to affordable energy, as well as the political and economic freedom to benefit from one’s own hard work and good ideas.

It is technology that improves the living conditions of the poor, and it is technology that will provide the only practical solution to global warming. “But technology caused the problem in the first place!” many environmentalists object. When environmentalists demonstrate their willingness to forsake the many benefits of modern technological progress, I’ll take them seriously.

I have to wonder how much the writers for Vanity Fair actually know about potential real solutions to the global-warming problem. When you live in a world without physical cause and effect, where the benefits of modern life are self-existent and where pollution is nothing more than a bad choice someone else has made, maybe all you need are good intentions and creative-writing skills.

Only in a country as technologically advanced, yet as scientifically and economically illiterate, as the United States do we find such mindless hypocrisy masquerading as “environmental awareness” and “eco-justice.” Devoting column inches to an environmental version of Dante’s Hell containing, among others, George W. Bush might help sell more copies of Vanity Fair, but it is not much more than thinly disguised tabloid propaganda.

Roy Spencer> Roy W. Spencer is a Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He >>> received > his Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Wisconsin in ...


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