On January 31, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army began a series of over 100 surprise attacks across South Vietnam. Although the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were taken by surprise, most attacks were quickly contained and tremendous casualties were inflicted upon the communist forces. Tet failed militarily and the communist forces suffered losses that should have eventually cost them the war.
However, Tet succeeded in the realm of public opinion and created the impression in the U.S. that the war was unwinnable. President Johnson shuffled military leadership, and the strategy shifted to one resulting in withdrawal and the fall of South Vietnam. This is analogous to the public relations war being waged by the environmental movement.
The ongoing success of the environmental movement is based on the effectiveness of its public relations. As voters and consumers, we must be sufficiently convinced by the urgency of the green message to make changes in our economic choices. But the environmental movement is failing. Worldwide, people want bigger houses, more cars, richer diets, and other trappings of the wealthy Western lifestyle. And the world’s population is increasing, creating greater numbers of aggressive consumers.
Here in the U.S., the desire for bigger and more luxurious houses helped to fuel the real estate bubble which has burst so dramatically. Years of hectoring us about biodiversity, endangered species, old-growth forest, etc., have failed to stop the global population from becoming increasingly consumptive of the world’s resources. The quiet rural farmland in the Midwest where I grew up bicycling and hunting has been plastered over by suburban sprawl. Each former woodlot sports a new air-conditioned home atop a chemically manufactured lawn, an SUV in every driveway.
The environmental movement has had some symbolic successes. We recycle more bottles. Industrial technology is cleaner. There are more wolves and bald eagles in North America now then there were thirty years ago. Fewer bars allow smoking. We seem to care more about environmental issues, and our cars are plastered with all sorts of bumper stickers to that effect. We give our old clothing to Goodwill so we can buy new wardrobes of organic cotton and hemp. But as a species most of us are not interested in pruning our economic choices to consume fewer resources. We want ever expanding lifestyles. As a species, we are gluttonous.
The environmental movement knew that its public relations efforts were failing. But the movement had a new weapon: the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).
Finally they had an urgent message of impending global doom, focusing on carbon dioxide emission, no less — an inescapable consequence of so many primary components of our modern lifestyles. The intense effort to saturate our media consciousness with AGW was the Tet Offensive of the environmental movement — a desperate attempt to take control of the public perception. Submit now, before it is too late!
With AGW, the environmental movement had a message that rationalizes turning over control of our economic and personal lives to unaccountable bureaucratic elites. Any activity that emits a greenhouse gas must be regulated for the greater good. Proper-thinking scientists would be able to cash in on this regulatory bonanza, and carbon trading and monitoring schemes — already showing corruption — would be expanded to ensnare all of our activities. Our politicians and their bureaucrats, unable to manage a TARP bailout, would suddenly be able to produce transparently flawless prescriptions for all our activities. The United Nations, whose scandalous incompetence was exemplified by its mismanagement of Saddam Hussein’s Oil-for-Food program, graciously stepped forward to offer itself as the architect of a global regulatory scheme. A successful AGW offensive would make the environmental movement into a modern day Oracle at Delphi, with a cloying influence over regulatory schemes worldwide.
The environmental movement threw most of its efforts behind the AGW media offensive. All of its eggs in one basket.
In my adopted home state of Oregon, Google offers 3,400,000 hits for “global warming,” but only 359,000 for “old growth” and 16,600 for “endangered salmon.”AGW’s Tet Offensive has crowded out discussions about soil conservation, habitat preservation, chemical contaminants in the food chain, safe drinking water, and so many other important environmental issues.
Now, AGW is exposed for the specious theory that it is. Respected scientific voices have long voiced skepticism and are now being heard. The Climategate scandal caused the most fundamental data behind AGW to be questioned. Sunlight is a great disinfectant for methodologies “proving” AGW. The word is out. This is good. Rigorous standards must be applied to scientific inquiry.
The environmental movement’s Tet Offensive has failed.
But what will the cost of the “all your eggs in one basket” approach be to the environmental movement?
It will be much harder to persuade the public to listen to discussions of the less sexy but verified environmental problems facing us. The press, unable to resist a bandwagon, will enable this. The many important environmental issues facing us will fade from our consciousness until the public’s resentment over being manipulated wanes. There will be many costs to pay in the meantime.
I’ll be heading down to the local microbrew to ease my sorrows. But at least it will be smoke-free.