Sunday, March 23, 2008

Global Warming "Religion"?

The following is a letter-to-the-editor which I submitted to the Wisconsin State Journal and (Madison WI) Capital Times on 22 March 2008.


Many skeptics have begun to assert that Global Warming has become a “religion” of sorts, and several made this charge at the March 19th public listening session held by the Wisconsin Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming. Such allegations contain more than a kernel of truth: zealousness, righteousness, and stern reproaches of “disbelievers” are prevalent among Climate Change activists.

Yet it is clear many skeptics are motivated no less by their faith in the Church of Perpetual Economic Growth. Nor can anyone deny which “religion” reigns supreme in these United States: the doctrine of producing and consuming, of developing and expanding, of discarding and emitting more and more, forever and ever, Amen. Our economic high priests proclaim that the “Law of Substitution” will overcome all material and energetic limits. They praise the infinite wisdom of the “Invisible Hand”. And they demand that “The Market” be unshackled and set free at last – then irksome non-monetary considerations like foresight, ethical governance, and enlightened self-restraint can be cast aside.

God Himself may not know whether in this century mankind will render Earth a thermodynamically-inhospitable habitat for humanity. But only complete fools would ignore the fact that our species is reaching and exceeding many of our planet’s limits: the devastating overharvesting of ocean fish, the combustion of a cubic mile of non-renewable petroleum per year, and vast soil erosion due to unsustainable agriculture. If we do not ration our exploitation of Earth, Nature will ration us.

Edmund Burke’s warning summarizes it best: “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kunstler's Nightmare

I’m sorry, Mr. James Howard Kunstler, you’re gonna hate me for saying this, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the “warehouse in wheels” you despise so vehemently will work equally well in reverse. That’s right, your old nemesis Wal-Mart may soon be squirting out chintzy plastic salad-shooters in Sheboygan and shipping ‘em straight to Shanghai.

“Whaaa?” you ask. “Howz that possible?” Easy! All they gotta do is convert their US stores into sweatshops and their Chinese factories into Supercenters. After the nose-diving dollar topples debt-laden Amerkan consumers from the apex of the world’s economic pyramid; after the Second Great Depression crushes every vestigial sense of entitlement from us; it will be a proverbial cakewalk to “retool” former shopaholics, NASCAR worshippers, and hedge fund boiz into planet Earth’s low-wage grunts. Like you say, “It’s all good!”

But with oil topping $108 per barrel…and then $200…and eventually $400…a “warehouse” on eighteen-wheelers won’t be affordable, not even for Wal-Mart. No prob-LAY-mo, Jimbo! They’ll just follow your advice and float their warehouses on the water. Move their cargo on ships which sip that expensive oil a drop at a time. From Sheboygan and Chicago through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence to the sea. From Saratoga Springs down the Hudson, from Dayton down the Ohio, and from Minneapolis down the Mississippi. Out of Puget Sound, out of the mouth of the Chesapeake, and out of San Francisco Bay. And then half-way ‘round the globe, to the Twenty-First Century nexus of economic power and consumption. Using a pittance of fuel per ton of freight.

Yes, there will be mighty rivers of Amerkan-made stuff flowing the other direction this time – back to China, back to Thailand, back to India. Using the same old containers piled high on the same old ships. But not just extraneous kitchen gadgets and whole phyla of stuffed toys – they’ll be hauling away nearly every kernel of wheat and corn, nearly every ingot of steel and coil of rebar, and – too bad for all you carnivores out there – most of “our” beef. No matter which direction it moves, Wal-Mart will make oceans of money. But don’t get your hopes up that more than a few drops will “trickle down” from Bentonville Arkansas to the rest of the USA!

Who knows? With indentured-servant Billy Fourwheeler pedaling his bicycle to the salad-shooter plant in the old Wal-Mart store; with Sue Viego’s Expedition up on cinderblocks and “recycled” into the family chicken coop; with soccer centers transformed into Victory gardens and ballet schools shuttered and Amerkan kids engaged in fossil-fuel-free, free-range play right out the kitchen door; maybe – just maybe – Earth’s hardworking farmers will manage to produce enough rapeseed oil to run the whole damn thing for a while.