According to the popular press, carbon has now joined toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium on Peck's Bad Boy list. The phrase "carbon footprint" in the lexicon of lazy pseudo science writers and amateur climatologists provokes images of radioactive dirty shoes betraying our every move leaving deadly indelible impressions on the path to oblivion.
Why has the image of carbon been so distorted and demonized? Most of us even having a glancing familiarity with organic chemistry at one time knew that carbon is the building block of life on earth. From simple sugars to amino acids and DNA from industrial polymers to Q-tips, carbon is everywhere on earth, as it necessarily must be as carbon's structure invites nearly every other element to bond with it.
Astrobiologists searching for life beyond earth know that carbon is plentiful, showing up as carbon monoxide CO, methane CH4 and even carbon dioxide CO2 . Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), hydrogen carbon combos that we would associate with petroleum and mothballs, are the most abundant complex molecules in the universe according to Pascale Ehrenfreund of the University of Leiden. Carbon, found in the proximity of hydrogen, oxygen and water, means life is possible. But carbon must be found in very specific combinations and patterns with oxygen and hydrogen along with the occasional nitrogen, forming uniquely shaped amino acids, proteins and sugars, for life as we know it.
Radio telescopes search the universe for even a hint of a tell tale wavelength for these complex biological carbon compounds. But nothing. Silence. The universe seems to be devoid of any biological organic carbon footprint anywhere else. Which means no sign of life. If we are utterly alone, it conjures one of two emotional states: profound loneliness at the realization life on earth may have been a random occurrence or unrestrained joy in appreciating that we are in God's exclusive province.
Of course the dreaded carbon footprint here on earth is enviro-nihilist shorthand for despising one life form in particular. Humans. While we search the heavens in vain for any sign of intelligent life, the one right here, right now, is under steady assault. The carbon footprint doomsayers would also deny one of the greatest gifts of Western Civilization-continuous discovery and innovation in the science of carbon-from eradicating smallpox and alleviating pain to inventing synthetic nylon pantyhose, fast cars and microbrewed ales.
The zero carbon footprint movement has its roots in the zero population growth agenda of Margaret Sanger's radical eugenics of the 1920s cloaked in the respectability of Planned Parenthood. In the 1960's, Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb" further opened the backdoor entrance for the anti-capitalists and pro-choice lobby. The most recent dramatic example of post-humanism self-loathing is the -sexual-enviro thesis published last month by Robert Engleman in "More--Population, Nature and What Women Want".
Engleman's agenda about voluntary means to restrain population growth by giving women absolute control over procreation is just a precursor for forced sterilization, unregulated abortion on demand and acceptance of government run misanthropy. Moreover as Lawrence Solomon points out in "The Deniers" the misguided priorities of the zero carbon footprint fanatics have produced such perversions as creating a financial market for carbon credits through displacing tens of thousands of people in third world economies from their native forest homes to make room for biomass agriculture or millions dispossessed of their land flooded for hydroelectric dam reservoirs. Of course massive government subsidies to convert foodstuff cropland into ethanol fuel biomass has created a food price spiral and spot shortages, a self-fulfilling prophecy of the ZPG Mathusians.
Rather than a metaphor for plague and scourge, our carbon footprint should be a life-affirming exaltation with primordial hopes of reproduction and immortality. Carbon footprint as villain is temporal, transitory and self-absorbed-a nihilist and narcissist absurdity. Narcissus, you will recall, unable to return the affections of the nymph Echo, was consigned to forever seek the embrace of his own reflection and be captive to an illusion. So what becomes of the illusion of the zero carbon footprint? Where does the line of sight beyond a zero carbon footprint world lead? Well, to steal a reference from philosopher Antony Flew in his essay on death, quoting the apocalyptic words of Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Outside the visual field nothing is seen, not even darkness...the world in death does not change, but ceases."
Indeed, the world without our human carbon footprint does not change, but ceases.