The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


On the front page of McPaper (AKA USA Today) is a picture from the upcoming movie "The Day After Tomorrow" with a caption stating that this movie will cause political debate. This is now officially out of hand. Global warming is a serious problem and associating it with a movie undermines it's seriousness. It also provides fodder for right wing anti-enviros. And the premise of this movie is ridiculous. The gulf stream will not shut down over the span of a few days (if at all). Hurricanes will not hit the middle of Europe. Northern Hemisphere locations will not freeze.

I have no problem with movies like this as entertainment, but that is where it should end. Can you imagine if the nation suddenly developed a policy on how to deal with extra-terrestrials (this policy actually exists, incidentally, just in case) based on the movie "Independence Day"? What about all of the people in the E.T. camp? They would be disenfranchised. Perhaps sharks should lose threatened species status because of Jaws. Or we could shut down summer camps because of Friday the 13th (or keep them open due to Meatballs).

While almost all environmental trends in the western world are positive, global warming is the one area that is still getting worse (although not as quickly as it once was). This is troublesome not because it would cause some great disaster, but because we don't know what it would do. This is scary. And since the world is in OK shape now, hastening it's transition would be an unnecessary risk. The US gets guf for not signing the much ballyhooed but truly worthless and expensive Kyoto Treaty, while Russia gets a free pass for ducking the same treaty. The US simply despises the poor economics and loss of sovereignty that the treaty demands, as well as the act that it would have little to no environmental benefits. Russia on the other hand WANTS GLOBAL WARMING!!! (Note: Gregg Easterbrook wrote on this, but he stopped blogging for TNR, so I can't link to my source. You'll have to trust me on it). Think about it. A large portion of Russia is unusable tundra, and the torture prison business that made use of that area has been way down since communism fell (although it's been making a resurgence lately). A little warming might turn them into an economic dynamo.

The US could be better about greenhouse gases. The fuel economy of cars could be 100% better with existing technology. Power plants could decrease emissions significantly. But we are on the right track. Bill Clinton's administration succeeded in bringing pollution (especially smog) to a more reasonable level, as well as preserving the Super Fund initiative (allows those hurt by poisonous dumping to sue an entire industry for cleanup in the event the perpetrator can not be discovered.) The Bush administration has increased standards on Diesel fuel and Diesel vehicles (in direct contrast to his big oil buddies) passed tough new mercury standards, and presented a rather brilliant power plant reform bill, known as Clear Skies, that utilized pollution credits. It would have reduced power plant emissions by 70% in under 5 years. It was blocked by environmental lefties who's stance is that pollution is not a tradable commodity. And this brings us to the ultimate point.

Scare tactics undermine the cause of environmentalism. Super Fund cases have declined steadily over the last 10 years, and enviros have complained! They say tighter restrictions are necessary. But this is good news! There is less pollution and less dumping.

Then movies like this get made implying that disaster is close at hand. The implication is that costly measures should be taken to curb green house gases at ANY COST. And cost analysis is always what is missing from the equation. The US is seen as the big offender, and with respect to greenhouse gases, this is largely true, but in all other forms of pollution we are a paragon of virtue. A few minor adjustments are all that is necessary for greenhouses gases to join the list of outdated threats. And you can see it happening already.

Hybrid cars have been a great success (Japan's high gas prices have everything to do with this development, incidentally). Power plants improve every year. Nuclear power, which produces no greenhouse gases, has experienced a rebirth in Europe due to stunning tech advances which make meltdowns impossible. Hydrogen is almost viable as a fuel.

And it is important that the US achieve this before the third world reaches the fossil fuel stage. If you think that warming is a problem now, just wait until China and India are affluent enough to have wide spread car use. This is already happening in some Chinese cities, where bikes are now the rarity. This phenomenon is partially responsible for current gas prices. Many enviros urge us to go backwards and give up our cars and our power. But the rest of the world will not hold in their current pattern. We must do better, so that they may do better.

Finally, if anyone makes any argument to you based on this movie, kindly remind them that the movie is based on the book "The Coming Global Storm" by Art Bell. Art Bell used to be the radio host of Coast to Coast AM, a late night conspiracy talk show that aired from midnight to 5 AM (and still does with a new host). It's a forum for every crackpot wack job out there. And Art Bell was no exception to this. Now I must go. My lunch break is long since over.


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