Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hypocrisy in the Green Church

If you are a member of the so-called “religious right”, you can expect significant press time for any personal failings to follow the message you preach. A minister who preaches to others to be chaste, sober, and drug-free can be assured that his or her personal life will be scrutinized and exposed to the extent he or she is irresponsible in any of these three areas.

A charge of hypocrisy is a highly effective means of undermining the credibility of an individual, and in some cases even the veracity of what they preach. In areas of sexuality and sobriety, many of the leftward persuasion believe that no limits should apply. Thus, for those folks, it is likely reassuring to find that the preachers of limits cannot abide by them in their own lives. Although it is no surprise that people sin, it may be a relief to those who grade others on a curve that the curve may not be so high. But then there are those folks like Mother Teresa who actually do what they preach. So, perhaps the curve is still higher than we might like.

The religion of environmentalism also has its preachers, and they are telling us to change our wicked ways. Instead of purportedly saving our souls, they are hoping to save the planet. The goal of earth-preservation, which they perceive to be much weightier than soul-saving, carries them along in their convictions, and leads them to convert others to their world-views. In some cases, they even act on those beliefs by recycling waste products, purchasing solar panels to warm their homes, and driving electric vehicles to cut down on CO2 emissions. Failing to join their church can be damaging to one’s reputation. (A colleague recently related a story to me of a person who lost his position. However, that result garnered little sympathy. After all, he did not believe in global warming.)

Preachers in the church of environmentalism can also be hypocrites. However, hypocrisy in this context rarely seems newsworthy. Witness the recent press release of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which pointed out that Al Gore (remember, the guy who told us to take the bus to reduce our carbon footprint) has a house in Nashville with 20 times the carbon footprint of the average home. This press release was picked up by the Drudge Report (http://www.drudgereport.com/flash.htm). Otherwise, Fox News had a only small story on Gore’s response http://www.myfoxdc.com/myfox/pages/News/Detail?contentId=2511217&version=1&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=TSTY&pageId=3.11.1) .

According to the blog, http://thinkprogress.org/ Gore’s response to this charge involves remedial efforts he takes to help reduce his footprint. They state, for example, that he has added solar power and taken other energy-saving measures, such as using compact fluorescent bulbs. However, the data posted on Drudge indicates actual power usage (high and low) for the Gore residence. That means that the footprint is still large even after these energy-saving measures. He is using a lot of electric power, as well as natural gas. That natural gas is burning, and there is no getting around the fact that it is making CO2 – and lots of it.

Gore also says he has purchased “carbon offsets” to offset his family’s carbon footprint. (I see from his appearance at the Academy Awards that his own footprint may be a little deeper these days, but hey, it’s America and a guy has a right to gain a few extra pounds if he wants to – even though that probably also enhances one’s carbon footprint through consumption. ) But here is the problem with purchasing “carbon offsets”: they don’t necessarily reduce carbon output.

The “thinkprogress” website has a link to the site, www.nativeenergy.com. That site allows you to “purchase” these “offsets” from them. (Query: how does one know what one is really purchasing in this manner? Does this indicate that the adherents of this religion trust private ordering outside the scope of government regulation? Hmmm.) Significantly, the site defines offsetting in part as follows: “CO2 offsetting is when one someone pays someone else to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide on his or her behalf. People and businesses who want to reduce their emissions (or reduce them more than they have already), but find it too expensive or difficult to do so, can buy CO2 offsets to compensate for the emissions they can’t avoid. Offsetting reduces the cost of combating global warming by giving those for whom it is cheapest and easiest to cut emissions the most incentive to do so. For example, it would be really expensive for most of us to totally stop driving – we couldn’t get to our jobs. Instead of not driving, we can drive less and then make up for our driving emissions by helping finance things like wind farms that reduce emissions from power plants.”

This definition of offsetting apparently involves getting someone else to do your work for you. Moreover, that option is available when people “want” to do something, but they really can’t. To paraphrase scripture, the “spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak.” This condition apparently occurs whenever it is “too expensive or difficult” to reduce your own carbon footprint. Thus, you can apparently go on sinning and buy an indulgence of sorts to make it all better.

It should be noted, however, that building a windfarm or alternative energy source does not necessarily reduce carbon output. If the windfarm is a source for incremental power use, it may reduce incremental gains in carbon output. But it does not eliminate the current output of CO2 from power production and consumption. That depends on other human behavior. As the Nativeenergy site itself preaches: “Buying offsets is a way for you to compensate for the CO2 pollution you create by driving, flying, heating your home or using electricity. Offsetting isn’t an excuse to pollute, though. It’s a way to take responsibility for pollution we can’t avoid. Please reduce your energy use as much as you can, and then offset the climate impacts of the energy use you can’t avoid.” Thus, offsets don't excuse excess in their church, either.

I personally have no problem with Gore’s energy usage. But having a house that uses 20times the energy of the average family home does not seem to me like you are trying to “avoid” carbon production. Buying a credit might assuage a guilty conscience, much like buying an indulgence did from the church of the middle ages. But ultimately, it involves a similar kind of faith. It’s a great country where people can believe as they wish. However, hypocrisy in this context deserves some exposure, too.



Anonymous said...

I see your point Ed. Since the theory of global warming has recently been pushed closer to scientific fact, we must attack the man's personal life rather than the theory he's helped form.

The same thing happened to President Clinton. To win we must attack his personal life since you cannot attack his policies.

Of course you have to disagree with Gore since he is liberal. So this argument all makes sense.

I do have a question worth pondering which has to do with economics and the markets. Do you seriously think the 3% market drop in the past few days is due to the conventional thought of the 9% drop in the Chinese markets?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Shawn. This post is so typical of conservative "argument," which typically goes something like this

1. Set up a straw man and clothe him with unsubstantiated and borderline ridiculous "liberal" views. For example, in Morse's post, "many of the leftward persuasion" believe that "no limits should apply" in "areas of sexuality and sobriety." What??!? On what basis does he make such a ludicrous assertion?? Also, environmentalists believe that saving the planet is much weightier than saving souls? Show me the facts to support that assertion.

2. Shoot down the straw man that they have created with "reasoned" conservative claptrap.

Reasonable people may disagree with environmentalism and global-warming, but to frame an argument along the lines of "conservative preachers get attacked so it's ok for me to attack liberal environmental "preachers," is beyond ridiculous and unbefitting someone with academic credentials.