Environmentalism and Envy
Envy is among the least admirable of human emotions. It is not an emotion that we publicly acknowledge or often even acknowledge privately to ourselves. Entire ideological movements are based on envy, Marxism being the prime example. The obsession with inequality and the putting forth of schemes for correcting the supposed inequality problem is an obsession of the left. The left’s scheme is always to bring down the highflying objects of envy, usually by means of taxation or by outlawing the pleasures enjoyed by the social classes envied.
Ironically, the persons envied often join in the schemes directed against themselves. Warren Buffet, a billionaire many times over, advocates higher taxation of the rich. Richard Branson, the owner of an airline that gulps jet fuel by the tanker load, whines about global warming and implicitly the need to restrict the use of fossil fuels. Presumably these gentlemen, who are publicity seekers who flaunt their wealth, embrace leftist leveling to deflect envy, smooth relations with governments, and to legitimize crony capitalist projects.
People only envy others who they can imagine being. Most of us cannot realistically imagine being a multibillionaire or the owner of an airline. Another billionaire, Donald Trump, flaunts his wealth without apology, and without embracing plots against the rich. Probably the only people who envy Donald Trump are lesser real estate billionaires.
Environmentalism has its own hierarchy of moral value. Camping, hiking, and communing with nature are valued pastimes. These activities grant an aura of moral superiority that can be had independently of money, talent, or social status.
Environmentalists hate dams. Dams provide lakes, prevent floods, store water for future use, and generate electricity. Some dams are engineering triumphs that are beautiful and magnificent symbols of human achievement. What’s to hate? Dams improve upon nature. But, that’s the problem. Dams, with all their benefits, mock the moral superiority that nature is supposed to have over the works of man. Somehow the generation of CO2-free electricity by dams is not considered worthy. The legal definition of renewable electricity in California specifically excludes electricity generated by big hydroelectric projects. Similarly, the Kyoto treaty to prevent global warming does not give credit to CO2-free nuclear energy. Logical consistency is not an environmental movement strong point.
Environmentalists subscribe to continually changing prophecies of apocalyptic disaster. Our topsoil is being washed into the ocean (The Road to Survival -- 1948). DDT is exterminating birds (The Silent Spring -- 1962). Overpopulation will result in starvation (The Population Bomb -- 1968). We will run out of resources and strangle on pollution (The Limits to Growth -- 1972). Acid rain from burning coal will destroy our forests and crops (circa 1985). Hairspray will destroy the ozone layer and cause cancer (1980s). Burning fossil fuels adds CO2 to the atmosphere that will cause disastrous global warming (1988-2015). These prophecies and many others were claimed to be scientifically justified. The science is always secondary and almost always poor science. What’s important is the thrill of impending doom and the call to activists to engineer a rescue. When one prophecy fades or is declared corrected, a new one emerges to take its place.
Prophecies of doom have always been with us. The Book of Revelations has inspired men’s imagination for two thousand years. In about 1800, Thomas Malthus predicted that the exponential nature of population growth would lead to widespread famine or disease. In 1856, Nongqawuse, a teenager of the Xhosa tribe in South Africa, prophesied that if the tribe killed their cattle and destroyed their crops the British would be swept away. The tribe did this and most of them starved to death.
Now we have prophets demanding that we destroy our fossil fuel infrastructure and replace it with windmills and solar power stations. If we actually did this, the economic consequences would be very costly. Solar and wind power, on a national scale, would cost 5 or 10 times more than our current sources of power and be less reliable. This easily discovered fact is rarely discussed by environmental romantics, much less by the crony capitalists of the alternative energy industry, basking in a flood of subsidies and mandates.
Apocalyptic environmentalism has psychological advantages for those tortured by feelings of inadequacy and envy. By making one’s cause in life the prevention of an apocalypse, an individual can raise his status and make his life meaningful. Working to prevent the ruination of the Earth is obviously a task of great import. That the Earth is in no danger of being ruined and that the prophecies are largely imaginary doesn’t matter. The prophecies are too good to check.
Believers in environmental prophecies of doom lash out with undisguised fury when their prophecies -- and their “science” -- are treated with skepticism. Those who dare to express doubts are accused of being in the pay of polluters, or of being ignorant, or of being religious fanatics. This fury, more than anything illustrates the mental state of environmentalists.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whose uncle was president of the United States, has led a difficult life including heroin addiction, sex addiction, and a wife who committed suicide. A dedicated environmental activist, Kennedy wants climate change deniers and skeptics put in jail as the equivalent of war criminals. Kennedy’s life illustrates how people seek refuge from their difficulties and frustrations by adopting fanatical environmental beliefs.
When the Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg published a book skeptical of environmental dogma, environmental activists, including John Holdren, now Obama’s science advisor, spared no effort to destroy Lomborg’s reputation and career by publishing an 11-page collective rant denouncing Lomborg in Scientific American magazine.
When climate scientist Roy Spencer published a peer-reviewed paper critical of computer climate models in an obscure European journal, the editor of the journal was forced, by pressure from the climate science establishment, to resign. The editor’s mistake was assuming that free and open discussion was allowed in the discipline of climate science.
Scientist James Hansen, often considered the father of global warming alarmism, has suggested that the heads of fossil fuel companies are guilty of crimes against humanity and should be treated appropriately.
Believers in apocalyptic climate change often accuse dissenters of being in the clutches of evangelical religion and thus insensitive to scientific arguments. But evangelical religions are notable for delaying baptism until children are at an age of reason and able to voluntary accept being saved. Those who decline being saved are not objects of hatred upon which abuse is showered. In the Bible belt, atheists who criticize and ridicule religion are not driven from their occupations, much less put on trial for crimes against humanity. More likely they are met with smiles and gentle nudging in the hope that they will see the light. There is no Spanish Inquisition in Alabama or Texas, except perhaps among the climate-change professors at Texas A & M University where there is a loyalty oath to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the members of the faculty have signed and that is displayed on the Internet.
Norman Rogers is a volunteer Policy Advisor at the Heartland Institute. He writes often about climate change and puzzles over the attraction of doomsday movements.