Magazine | April 21, 2014, Issue

Too Darn Hot

The International Court of Justice, which would get more respect if they appended “and Pancakes” to its name, has asked Japan to stop whaling. Japan has agreed, which must have led the justices to drop their pens and ask: Could you say that again, please? Someone’s heeding our verdict? Well, let’s try Bush while we’re on a roll here.

Japan had insisted it harvested 1,000 whales per year for “scientific research.” They have proved, for example, that if you harpoon a whale, it dies. You might have thought they proved that already, but the science is never settled. Another thousand whales, you might find one who says “Hey, ouch, okay? Really.”

“Save the Whales” is the perfect empty-gesture bumper-sticker cliché, proof of one’s bona fides as a good person. If Tibet had whales, the amount of ineffectual posturing you could cram into a car sticker would increase exponentially. But one can distance oneself from the pieties of eco-sensitivity and still ask why, exactly, we need to go out to the sea and kill whales. I’m thinking of the last time I came back from the store.

“Where’s the ambergris?” my wife did not say.

“All out,” I did not reply, my face not set in stoic despair. “There were rumors of scarcity, and the shelves were bare.”

“Whatever shall we do?” my wife did not say with an aching note of despair in her voice.

“I went to the docks,” I did not say, holding forth a vial. “I traded my watch. For this.”

“The whale-derived medicine! Fetch the plaster, that I might place it on Baby’s chest,” my wife never said.

Leave the whales alone, one thinks. Likewise, it is possible to care about the Earth and wish it well, and not subscribe to alarums that predict our imminent embroilment from climate change. The U.N. has a new report, and as you can expect it has key doom-flavored phrases in the summary so that everyone will assume a state of tremulous dread. We must change our ways now or ruin shall be the law of the globe. None will be spared!

Uh-huh. As someone who grew up during the ice-age panic of the Seventies, when glaciers were supposed to push the towers of Chicago into the Gulf of Mexico, I am not impressed by such certainties. But if you’re wondering whether this catastrophe can be averted and the seas can be kept down so Toledo doesn’t rebrand itself as the Venice of Ohio, well, of course. The complicated mechanisms of weather and climate are exquisitely responsive to taxation, for example. Global carbon tariffs, if carefully applied, could bring down global temps by 0.2 degrees, although you have to be careful; if the temperatures look like they’re skidding down too fast, you have to decrease taxes between 3 and 5.2 percent, depending on the rate of decline. Picture a wise EU bureaucrat with one hand on a lever that says “TAXES” and a keen eye on a thermometer.

#page#But obviously taxes aren’t enough. When stakes are this high, you need art.

We’re in luck on that count. This month, The Great Immensity premieres in New York: a musical about climate change. Plot: “Through her search, Phyllis uncovers a mysterious plot surrounding the upcoming international climate summit in Auckland.”

These, of course, are the events dedicated to carbon extirpation, attended by people who reach Auckland in longboats rowed by sturdy vegetarian oarsmen.

The Great Immensity,” explains the musical’s website, “is a highly theatrical look into one of the most vital questions of our time: how can we change ourselves and our society in time to solve the enormous environmental challenges that confront us?”

With catchy songs and instructive lyrics, of course! You could use the “Jet Song” from West Side Story: “When you’re a Green, you’re a Green all the way / From your first protest march against GMO hay! / When you’re a Green, you’re the most verdant thing, / Little boy, you’re a Mann, little Mann, you’re a king! // The planet is doomed, / The Arctic ice and floes bake. / Fracking-gas booms / Are causing all the earthquakes, / For Gaia’s sake!”

Or “Maria” from the same show: “The Koch bros, / I just got an e-mail re: Koch bros. / Their utter evil plans / To exploit shale-oil sands / Are clear. // The Koch bros, / I just sent an e-mail to Koch bros. / My deft sarcastic pen / Will make them think again / And fear. // ‘The Koch bros’! / Mispronounce, if it’s fun you’re poking, / Say it soft, and it’s almost like choking.”

But taxes aren’t enough, and art isn’t enough. You also need tax money spent on art. We’re in luck here, too: The Great Immensity is made possible by a grant from you. Around $700,000 of National Science Foundation money.

Searching the NSF’s mission statement for the next few years, which seems to be the result of attempting to capture the density of a neutron star in prose form, you find that the terms “theater” and “musical” come up with zero returns.

How about a compromise: The government pays for a piece of paper inserted in the program for revivals of My Fair Lady. “The assertion that ‘the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain’ does not fit with climate models that show Iberian precipitation moving southward.” Yes, this might require coordination between the NSF and the NEA, but a working group could come up with strategies for maximizing outreach. The chairman of the working group would be paid $125,000.

Some Republicans would insist that’s too much, but that’s just the sort of argument you’d expect from people who want the Earth to die.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

In This Issue



Politics & Policy

Maneuver Warfare

It was February of 1991, and six weeks of brutal aerial bombardment were still no match for Saddam Hussein’s hubris. His continued refusal to evacuate Kuwait had triggered a coalition ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Politics & Policy

The Lawless

Just a few months ago, Secretary of State John Kerry was praising “our Russian partners” for their role in making possible a second “Geneva peace conference” on Syria. Having spent ...


Politics & Policy


Tax Talk I fail to understand why National Review deems a proposal to eliminate the federal tax exemption for state and local taxes paid a “welcome” reform (The Week, March 24). ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ The get-together between President Obama and Pope Francis was a meeting of giants: One is held by his flock to be infallible, the other merely the Vicar of Christ. ‐ ...
The Long View

From the MSNBC Archives . . .

April 19, 1886: “President Cleveland a ‘Father’ to Many” President Grover Cleveland took the extraordinarily brave and forthright step today of acknowledging his son. A lifelong Democrat, President Cleveland, as of ...

Too Darn Hot

The International Court of Justice, which would get more respect if they appended “and Pancakes” to its name, has asked Japan to stop whaling. Japan has agreed, which must have ...
Politics & Policy


TO AN EARLY BIRD, MID JUNE To-we, to-woo, to-woe! Must you sing so early, bird?  Can these announcements wait until a better time: say, half-past eight? You don’t think this cacophony will bring a friend ...

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More