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Athwart

Too Darn Hot

by James Lileks

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.

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 www.lileks.com.

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