Monday, December 17, 2007

Green for greater good, or to make others green with envy?

++Addition++Always eager to do my part (and have plenary indulgences, er, credits, granted on my behalf, if you happen to be reading, Mr. Vice President!), I've 'created' a green fitness machine.

The control panel on my treadmill just died. It appears to be something electrical. I decided to use it anyway, moving the tread with my own feet. While it looks as though I'm slogging through a marsh, it's grueling lower body work, similar to cross-country skiing uphill--without using any electricity.


New York City's 'green' Christmas tree campaign is more symbolic than anything else. But why not use LED lights, powered by solar panels instead of tungsten lights powered by coal-generated electricity to make the tree sparkle in the cold winter's air? Light-emitting diodes are soothing, and solar power is pretty hip. The tree is going to be chopped up and donated to Habitat for Humanity when the holiday season is over, and the land from which the tree was taken is going to be revitalized. This is some cool green stuff.

One aspect of the campaign strikes me as counterproductive, however, if spreading the appeal of 'going green' is the intention:

The City Hall news release also boasted that this year’s tree was cut with a handheld saw for the first time, to reduce energy consumption.
The tree is more than 35 feet wide. Using a handheld saw, the two burly lumberjacks who took the spruce down must've toiled for hours. Technological regression is not appealing to the vast majority of people living in modern societies (or the billions of people aspiring to live in them). This isn't as absurd as the overtly misanthropic, anti-natalist campaigning of some environmentalists, but the two share a disdain for modernity, a sure loser in the realm of public opinion.

I'm reminded of the 'No Impact Man', who forsakes toilet paper and the transportation of food as mortally damaging to the planet. To aspire to live the life of a vegetarian caveman appeals to a small sliver of people, virtually all of whom set themselves up to be revealed as hypocrites. Al Gore has been obliterated thus, being spotlighted for having too many kids, living in a 20-room mansion, using more than 20 times the electricity of the average American, flying around in a private jet to exotic places like Bali, and so on. This crowd strikes me as being more concerned with moral posturing as a means of distinguishing themselves from the burghers below than actually effecting real change.

Digressing for a second, having read much on the Crusades recently, I see similarities between the technologically regressive green movement and the monastic reformers of the Church in the latter-half of the Eleventh Century who eventually gained control of the papacy (Urban II, who 'launched' the First Crusade, was a major reformer):

It is no exaggeration to say that they wanted to monastacize the Christian world. They dreamed of a clergy, celibate and untainted by worldy values, ministering to lay men and women who as far as they were able lived lives and adopted devotional practices that corresponded to monastic ones. ...

Most extraordinary of all is the way the papacy was captured by them... Only once, in the later eleventh century, can it be said that the popes found themselves in the invigorating but dangerously exposed positition of being the leaders of a radical party in the Church.
The reformers saw the mass pilgrimage as a way of instilling within the lay community the monastic vows they sought to live by. That didn't much happen, as most people weren't too keen on foregoing the stuff of life. Instead, the reforming movement led to an embracing of a liberalized Augustinian justification for righteous violence that would help characterize the Church for more than half a millenium. And it was the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre from the control of Muslims (paynim), not the idea of living like a monk, that moved the men who marched alongside Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Toulouse into the Levant.

Alternative energy sources must be made economically viable to be used in any serious capacity. Nuclear power is the most obvious candidate for baseload power, but the competition among photovoltaics, batteries, wind, hydro, and other variable sources to see widespread use is going to come down to economics. And for any of these to be more economical than coal and petrol, technological progress is required. The environmental movement should focus on showing people how living a green lifestyle does not mean living the life of a modern-day, secular Benedictine.


Soap said...

Reminds me of a column I read a few years ago: "Recycling is Garbage" by John Tierney. (Not the same John Tierney who was a senator, if I remember correctly, in Massachusetts.)

John S. Bolton said...

According to the scientists who measure sea level by satellite, quoted in National Geographic June '07, p.65, "the oceans have been rising an eigth of an inch a year. At that rate the sea would go up a foot by 2100, roughly what a United Nations panel on climate change predicted earlier this year." If the world isn't much richer and more able to deal with a problem of that magnitude towards the end of this century, the global warming won't matter.

Al Fin said...

There is an excellent chance that as soon as Americans elect a Democratic Party candidate as US President, that much of the "end of the world" urgency we see about practically everything, will subside.

Bush as president is a psychological insult to the fragile psyches of the world. When he is gone, a lot of people will simply feel better about things, without truly understanding why.

Audacious Epigone said...


Interesting. The recycling push has been almost entirely supplanted by the CAGW push in major media sources across the country.

Al Fin,

That reminds me of the disparities in what is reported on depending on who is in the White House:

"During 1988, Reagan’s last year in office, The New York Times ran 50 stories on the homeless, including five on page one. A decade later, in 1998, they ran ten homeless stories, none on page one. In 1990, when George Bush the First was president, there were 71 homeless stories on the ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN evening newscasts. In 1995, with Bill Clinton in the White House, that number had dropped to nine. Homelessness couldn’t be a problem in the Clinton years, because homelessness is caused by Republicans."

Randall Parker has commented half-jokingly that the affluent should support Democrats who will reduce their rates, since the criticisms of taxation are relatively muted during Democratic presidencies. He was specifically referring to the Clinton Administration.

Rob said...

Soap, Tierney made such egregious errors in that article, try playing spot the fallacy with it. I don't entirely disagree with him, but the idea that all externalities are properly accounted for and weighted in taxes is not credible.

Everyone: We should "go green" because it is cheaper and better. Check out on the matter. If we cut our oil use, the Arabs get less money: that alone is enough reason to. This is not to say that every harebrained idea that someone calls "green" is a good one. Some of what is now called green used to be called efficiency or productivity.

"Save gas, starve a Saudi"

Anonymous said...

...more symbolic than anything else.

If they were truly interested about the enviornment, they wouldn't have cut down the tree in the first place! This environmental nonsense is just another way to morally preen and broadcast one's inherent goodness, caring, etc...It is just another annoying fad indulged by people who need a real hobby.

al fin said...

Actually, rob, most of what is now called green used to be called delusional schizophrenia.

With the change in terminology, the chattering classes are jostling each other to get aboard the bandwagon.

Rob said...

Al Fin,

You think it's crazy to cut your utility bills 50%? Really? You think it is a great idea to give huge amounts of money to Saudi Arabia? You like having lead and mercury in your diet and water?

Please explain.

Al Fin said...

That's basic economics, rob. But for green:

Green is an ideology of anti-western capitalism. It is not an environmental movement anymore except as a facade for political advantage.

I think it's crazy to advocate that high IQ women bear one child only or no children at all, while billions of people with average IQ of 85 are procreating at will, yes.

I think CAGW alarmism insane, yes.

I think peak oil catastrophism is insane, of course.

I think green environmentally motivated terrorism is insane, yes.

rob said...

I think peak oil catastrophism is insane, of course.

Nice weasel words there. Catastrophism, alarmism, and terrorism. So you don't deny the realities, just think the consequences won't be bad. That is arguable. We can probably transition from oil without too much pain.

You think oil prices have gone down the last few years? You think increased CO2 concentrations can not possibly affect climate? What happens, God blocks out the sun a bit, just to be nice?

Green is a fairly young ideology, and we can push it the way we want: pro-western, eugenic. It is a great way to move the world.

al fin said...

No, green is a very old ideology, if you look beyond the facade of faux environmentalism to the heart of the matter.

Most of the more savvy readers here at AP will understand:

Warren Meyer

For those who actually want to know what is driving oil prices, I recommend Leonardo Maugeri's The Age of Oil. Peak Oil is for people too lazy to read and think. Likewise CAGW. Lazy minds.

Rob said...

You failed to explain why peak oil can't happen. Do you think it hasn't happened yet, or can't happen at all?

Al Fin said...

The definition of Peak Oil seems to change too quickly to say very much about it. Much smarter to talk about oil prices and what makes them go up or down.

Fugu said...

I think "green" should be replaced by "sustainability."

Then one should realize that, for most of us, it is not a political agenda, and instead it is a way of acknowledging the problems in the world, and doing something about it in an efficient and cost effective manner. There are personal benefits as well as global.

Audacious Epigone said...


Since nuclear power is both sustainable and viable, yet not 'green', I agree.