A Good Hot Shower

Not much compares with the joy of lolling in a hot shower with water streaming full force down one's body, massaging one's back and shoulders, and easing the wrinkles on one's face. In an age of near universal regulation, censorship, and media conformity, an old-fashioned hot shower is one of the few pleasures of life that remain. Or so it would seem. In fact, the long arm of environmental extremism now extends even into your shower.

Along with legislation to phase out incandescent bulbs and force nearly everyone to drive a snub-nosed hybrid, liberals in the Obama administration have been attempting to outlaw luxury shower heads. Yes, at a moment in our history when the federal debt is climbing to ruinous levels, ever closer to the $20 trillion mark, the Department of Energy has nothing better to do than to issue new guidelines banning the use of luxury showerheads. Maybe that helps to explain why CBO projections for future deficits are running above $1.5 trillion annually as far as the eye can see. The Obama administration is too busy with the really important stuff.

The DOE regulation at issue is a radical departure from established practice, whereby a single shower nozzle may not exceed 2.5 gallons of water per minute at 80 pounds pressure per inch. Multi-nozzle showerheads, delivering far more than 2.5 gallons per minute, are a routine feature of many homes today. Now a government bureaucracy under the guidance of a remote, radicalized academic presumes to instruct everyone in America how to bathe.

As an article in "The Foundry" pointed out, showerhead regulation -- seemingly an insignificant matter affecting some 4% of American homes -- nonetheless represents a slippery slope that could well lead to unlimited regulation of home water and energy usage. How, when, and if certain appliances are used will almost certainly be further restricted by federal law, just as showerheads and incandescent bulbs are today. If the government can mandate how you can bathe, they can also impose controls on an entire spectrum of domestic life, from food consumption to home heating and cooling to the conception of children. It won't be long before we are instructed to shut the water off when we brush our teeth, and DOE will install a webcam and timer on the faucet just to make sure.

It's true that the energy-ratings police have not yet knocked on my door and attempted to search the premises for multi-head shower devices or outdated appliances, but I suspect it will come to that. Maybe not routinely, but certainly at the point when I wish to sell my house. That "right" was, in fact, included in the comprehensive climate change legislation passed by the Pelosi House in 2009 and only averted by the thinnest of margins in the Senate. Make no mistake: they will try again if they get the chance.

For now, the left's m.o. is to legislate what I am permitted to buy. Unfortunately, radical environmentalists are working up new regulations faster than reasonable folks can come up with reasons for defeating them. By the time the left's folly is exposed, as it has been with global warming, environmental regulations have been institutionalized and are difficult to rescind. The m.o. is always the same: drum up a crisis based on speculative pseudo-science, rush through legislation before the false science has been exposed, and then sit tight and fight attempts to repeal the harmful restrictions. So it is with CFBs, and so it is with luxury showerheads.

Having passed legislation raising taxes, imposing costly CAFE standards, driving the price of top-loading washing machines through the roof, forcing taxpayers to shell out subsidies and again at the supermarket line to support an ethanol industry that makes no sense, and outlawing incandescent bulbs, you'd think the left could keep its hands off my shower. But, no. Like Norman Bates on steroids, leftists think they have the right to enter our private bathrooms and rip the shower heads right off the wall. 

What seems to motivate the environmental movement is a neurotic anxiety concerning the possibility that somewhere, somehow, someone is wasting resources that, for some reason, need to be conserved. It does not seem to have occurred to them that the earth contains an unexplored abundance of resources or that human beings, with their remarkable capacity for invention and entrepreneurial activity, possess the ability to adapt to whatever challenges may present themselves. Even as the Mississippi River overflows its banks and floods millions of acres, there are eco-types calling for national standards on water usage, reuse, and pricing, an approach that is generally referred to as water sustainability. Doesn't it occur to water regulators that it might be a good thing if a few million gallons were removed from some of the nation's river basins?

With regard to water usage, as with all else, what the environmental movement has in mind is an inhuman standard of absolute efficiency that would legislate every detail of daily life. Determined to bring about zero carbon emissions and a "sustainable" level of energy usage, the left is willing to resort to any means, including the undemocratic one of having the EPA legislate via unintended application of existing statutes. Inconvenience, cost, discomfort, or economic ruin don't seem to matter.

Radicals in Congress and the White House have spent the last four years enacting regulations in the name of sustainability. Yet the very word "sustainability" needs to be understood for what it is: not an objective standard but a mad attempt to bring innovation and entrepreneurial activity to a screeching halt. It is, in other words, an expression of an age-old anxiety concerning development that arose with the Industrial Revolution and that has continued up to today.

For anyone familiar with this paranoid history, the ravings of contemporary environmental fear-mongers (from Al Gore to spokesmen for the Environmental Defense Fund) are too familiar to be taken seriously. Influenced by the radicalism of his father-in-law, William Godwin, and by the dire warnings of Thomas Malthus, Percy Bysshe Shelley captured the defeatist mood of the times in "Ozymandias," his famous poem inspired by the ruins of a statue of Ramses II. Aside from scattered fragments and a brief inscription, nothing remained of the image of this great king. Shelley's portrait of a ruined civilization swallowed up by shifting sands could be right out of Silent Spring or An Inconvenient Truth, and for good reason: the doleful literature of the romantics was the intellectual basis for the environmental vision of global catastrophe. Blake and Shelley did not employ the word "sustainability" in its modern sense, but they certainly understood its meaning and employed it in their writings.

In essentials, the message remains unchanged. To the liberal mind, growth and development -- even that which leads to obvious advances in human well-being and happiness -- must be resisted because they suggest impermanence.  But by its very nature, improvement in human existence, such as that which leaves us driving comfortable, gas-powered vehicles on interstate highways instead of horse-drawn carriages on country lanes, implies impermanence and risk. The reactionary instinct to which all liberals appeal is the fear of change, but without entrepreneurial innovation, including the development of luxury showerheads, society will revert to the misery of the past.

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture.