Putting the Toothpaste Back into the Tube
Back in World War II, the Dam Busters were British RAF pilots who combined derring-do, acrobatic flying, and stiff upper lips to attack the Nazi hydroelectric dams on the Ruhr, with the hopes of crippling Axis manufacturing efforts in the region. A decade after the allies won the war, the exploits of the Dam Busters were made into a movie with some of the best acting and cheesiest special effects ever put into postwar British cinema:
These days though, the Damn Busters have plenty of company, and they're not attacking America's enemies, but America itself, turning William James' "Moral Equivalence of War" ethos from the dawn of the 20th century on its head. Whereas progressives and those to their left in the first half of the 20th century, in Europe, the former Soviet Union and America believed in the importance of dams for both hydroelectric power and creating water reservoirs, the increasingly ironically named progressives of the 21st century believe in destroying them. This gentleman says "I'm a dam buster," working to destroy the Matilija Dam in southern California -- in an ad for American Express that's aired recently on primetime network TV:
As Shikha Dalmia wrote in 2007 in the Wall Street Journal:
Once regarded as the symbol of national greatness, hydroelectric dams have now fallen into disrepute for many legitimate reasons. They are enormously expensive undertakings that would never have taken off but for hefty government subsidies. Worse, they typically involve changing the natural course of rivers, causing painful disruptions for towns and tribes.
But tearing down the Klamath dams, the last of which was completed in 1962, will do more harm than good at this stage. These dams provide cheap, renewable energy to 70,000 homes in Oregon and California. Replacing this energy with natural gas -- the cleanest fossil-fuel source -- would still pump 473,000 tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. This is roughly equal to the annual emissions of 102,000 cars.
Given this alternative, one would think that environmentalists would form a human shield around the dams to protect them. Instead, they have been fighting tooth-and-nail to tear them down because the dams stand in the way of migrating salmon. Environmentalists don't even let many states, including California, count hydro as renewable.
They have rejected all attempts by PacifiCorp, the company that owns the dams, to take mitigation steps such as installing $350 million fish ladders to create a salmon pathway. Klamath Riverkeeper, a group that is part of an environmental alliance headed by Robert Kennedy Jr., has sued a fish hatchery that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife runs -- and PacifiCorp is required to fund -- on grounds that it releases too many algae and toxic discharges. The hatchery produces at least 25% of the chinook salmon catch every year. Closing it will cause fish populations to drop further, making the demolition of the dams even more likely.
But the end of the Klamath won't mean the end of the dam saga -- it is the big prize that environmentalists are coveting to take their antidam crusade to the next level. "This would represent the largest and most ambitious dam removal project in the country, if not the world," exults Steve Rothert of American Rivers. The other dams on the hit list include the O'Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley that services San Francisco, Elwha River dam in Washington and the Matilija Dam in Southern California.
Large hydro dams supply about 20% of California's power (and 10% of America's). If they are destroyed, California won't just have to find some other way to fulfill its energy needs. It will have to do so while reducing its carbon footprint to meet the ambitious CO2 emission-reduction targets that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has set. Mr. Schwarzenegger has committed the Golden State to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 -- a more stringent requirement than even in the Kyoto Protocol.
The effect this might have on California's erratic and overpriced energy supply has businesses running scared. Mike Naumes, owner of Naumes Inc., a fruit packing and processing business, last year moved his juice concentrate plant from Marysville, Calif., to Washington state and cut his energy bill in half. With hydropower under attack, he is considering shrinking his farming operations in the Golden State as well. "We can't pay exorbitant energy prices and stay competitive with overseas businesses," he says.
Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club's deputy executive director and a longtime proponent of such a mandate, refuses to even acknowledge that there is any conflict in closing hydro dams while fighting global warming. All California needs to do to square these twin objectives, he maintains, is become more energy efficient while embracing alternative fuels. "We don't need to accept a Faustian bargain with hydropower to cut emissions," he says.
This is easier done in the fantasy world of greens than in the real world. If cost-effective technologies to boost energy efficiency actually existed, industry would adopt them automatically, global warming or not.
As I said, Dalmia's article was written in 2007, when more abstract assaults on the American economy by the left hadn't fully succeeded yet. But as Northern California blogger "Bookworm Room" recently noted, that region of the state has seen similar dam busting efforts by the far left, which continue even as the economy is in turmoil, especially in California. (Not surprisingly, Avatar director James Cameron is a fan of this activity -- even though the city he makes his rather substantial living in was itself created in the early 20th by reshaping the region's water supply.)
But even beyond dam busting, there really does seem to no shortage of areas where self-styled "progressives" wish to eliminate the progress their grandfathers fought for -- and the benefits that Americans derive from them daily. Or as a blog post from 2005 at Gates of Vienna put it succinctly in their headline, after spotting a booth with this name on it at a vegetarian-themed festival, "Visualize Industrial Collapse." (Presumably they'd consider what seems at times to be the president's continuing efforts in that department to not go anywhere near far enough!)
At Ricochet, James Lileks spots one enviro-religious group wanting to have "A Weekend Without Oil" on the weekend of August 21. Naturally, James has more than a little sport with their efforts to run the clock backwards:
An ad on a website alerted me to an upcoming non-event in which people will not do things in order to save energy. It's a "Weekend Without Oil." Such a thing is impossible, unless you want to stand naked in the back yard without consuming a single thing except grass - provided you haven't used any petrochemical fertilizers or mowed it with a powered machine, of course. Oil is everywhere. It was once thought to be a boon to civilization until it became Gaia's version of original sin, but it is still quite useful. You could even say invaluable, if you wanted to start a fight.
Says the site:
CALL TO ACTION
On August 21st and 22nd, commit to these 11 actions!
To the barricades, comrades. Let us strive to smash the driving-dog petro-lackeys and their revanchist designs! Mind you, I have no problem with conservation; waste not, want not, and all that. I just don’t want to adopt a pre-industrial lifestyle. Here are the ACTIONS to which we must COMMIT.
Walk or ride your bike: Avoid using cars and if you must, always try to carpool.
Sorry, no. Saturday I go grocery shopping. I will not walk for six miles lugging gallon-bladders of milk.
Enjoy the outdoors: Avoid buying new sporting equipment, since oil makes up nearly 25% of rubber. Footballs or basketballs, for example, can last for many years and used equipment is often just as good and will reduce demand for oil needed to make new rubber.
Not planning on buying a new football, so I'm good there. In fact my rubber needs are mostly met for the foreseeable future.
Use reusable bags: Avoid disposable plastic. Plastic bags are a huge waste for very little benefit. Nearly 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption, approximately 2 million barrels a day, is used to make plastic products alone.
That's a bit disingenuous. "Plastic" comprises a wide variety of objects with innumerable purposes. Question for the activists: how much do you want to see the plastic-manufacturing work-force reduced? Ten percent? Twenty?
My store also collects old plastic bags, and I was under the impression they were made from corn. Everything is made out of corn these days. GM's next car will be made out of corn and also run on corn, so if you run out of gas you can rip off a piece of the bumper and shove it in the tank.
Be conscious about what you eat that weekend: You can reduce oil demand by changing your diet to eat less meat, more local foods that require less transportation and organic food, which doesn't use petro-based fertilizers.
You know which restaurant is the most popular with neighborhood foodies, to use a term I hate? A sushi joint. Shouldn't sustainable-food people start picketing sushi bars? I'm pretty sure we don't raise a lot of kelp and crab in the city.
And so on. But didn't we just get through "Earth Hour" a few months ago? This group's big beef is with another breakthrough technology of the late 19th century, the electric light. And as with the "modern" dam busters and American Express, they've had at least one corporate endorsement as well:
And of course, in 2007, NBC, owned by General Electric, which makes, you know, electric lightbulbs -- urged its viewers to turn them off. They dimmed the lights on the set of their Sunday Night Football halftime show -- except of course for the sign behind the set from Toyota, the show's sponsor -- and the five billion watts of lighting at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles were playing the Cowboys that night. (Video here.)
This year has seen Salon on a tear against air conditioning -- a topic that seems to come up there on a regular basis. A decade ago, Reason noted that it's no longer the Bircher right that obsessed Stanley Kubrick in 1963's Dr. Strangelove who want to ban fluoride, but the Naderite far left.
Meanwhile, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, roadways in some rural areas are being returned to gravel, rather than the more expensive, but infinitely more car-friendly asphalt. This may be for cost-cutting efforts, but it certainly fits the completion backwards principle mindset that's running rampant through the left.
Perhaps Glenn Reynolds spotted the ultimate example of this at Tech Central Station back in 2003, when he asked, "What sort of person would rather be prey?" -- looking at the return of cougars -- not the Sex and the City kind -- to populated areas:
Scientists and outdoorsmen began to warn of danger, but they were ignored by both the [Boulder, Colorado] public [in the late 1980s]-- which was sentimentally attached to the idea of free-roaming wildlife -- and state wildlife-protection bureaucrats, who downplayed first the presence, and then the danger, posed by the cougars. Dogs and cats started being eaten, cougars started threatening people, and yet meetings on the subject were dominated by people who "came to speak for the cougars."
In the end, of course, people started to be eaten, and the bureaucracy woke up to a degree. There's lots of interesting stuff in Baron's book about ecological change, and the folly of seeking "wilderness" without recognizing humanity's role in nature, but to me the most interesting behavior isn't the predatory nature of the cougars -- which are, after all, predators -- but the willful ignorance of human beings. So many were so invested in the notion that by thinking peaceful thoughts they could will into existence a state of peaceful affairs that they ignored the evidence right in front of them, which tended to suggest that cougars were quite happy to eat anything that was juicy, delicious, and unlikely to fight back.
This is, as Baron notes, something of a parable -- and not merely a parable of man and "nature." One need only look at the treatment of such other topics as crime, terrorism, and warfare to see examples of the same sort of misplaced sentimentality and willful ignorance. Tolerance of criminality leads to more crime; tolerance of terrorism leads to more terrorism; efforts to appear defenseless lead to war.
Nonetheless, the same strand of wishful thinking appears: perhaps this time, the cougars won't want to eat us. Some people, apparently, would rather be dinner than face up to the fact that nature is red in tooth and claw, and that -- in this fallen world, at least -- the lion lies down with the lamb only after the lamb's neck is broken. (Worse yet is the noxious strand of liberalism that suggests we somehow deserve to be dinner.)
In the United States, such silliness seems to have diminished in recent years, though it is still ongoing in Britain, where aggressive efforts to ban hunting (believed by some observers to be politically motivated) have produced promises of civil disobedience.
The effort to remake the world so that it is safe for predators seems rather odd to me. What sort of person would rather be prey? The sort who lives in upscale neighborhoods, and campaigns against hunting, apparently. I suspect that over the long term this isn't a viable evolutionary strategy in a world where predators abound.
Rather than attempting to destroy the infrastructure of our economy, up and coming blogger Pat Sajak (who I predict could go far in bonding with the general public -- particularly if he chooses television as his medium of choice) has a modest proposal for the putting civilization's toothpaste back in the tube crowd:
Let’s assume that a third of the world’s population really believes mankind has the power to adjust the Earth’s thermostat through lifestyle decisions. The percentage may be higher or lower, but, for the sake of this exercise, let’s put it at one-third. Now it seems to me these people have a special obligation to change their lives dramatically because they truly believe catastrophe lies ahead if they don’t. The other two-thirds are merely ignorant, so they can hardly be blamed for their actions.
Now, if those True Believers would give up their cars and big homes and truly change the way they live, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be some measurable impact on the Earth in just a few short years. I’m not talking about recycling Evian bottles, but truly simplifying their lives. Even if you were, say, a former Vice President, you would give up extra homes and jets and limos. I see communes with organic farms and lives freed from polluting technology.
Then, when the rest of us saw the results of their actions—you know, the earth cooling, oceans lowering, polar bears frolicking and glaciers growing—we would see the error of our ways and join the crusade voluntarily and enthusiastically.
How about it? Why wait for governments to change us? You who have already seen the light have it within your grasp to act in concert with each other and change the world forever. And I hate to be a scold, but you have a special obligation to do it because you believe it so strongly. Then, instead of looking at isolated tree rings and computer models, you’d have real results to point to, and even the skeptics would see the error of their ways and join you.
Heh.™ But of course, that's not going to happen: as the fellow in the American Express ad noted above, "It's a selfish thing to want to protect nature" -- the goal is to feed your ego by proselytizing your newfound faith and virtue to others. Back in 2007, in prepping for his book, which ties in a number of the above themes, Jonah Goldberg explored the topic of "Secular Religions:"
But there was a considerable downside to the displacement of the Almighty by the trinity of the slide rule, the microchip, and the test tube. Eric Voegelin was among the most alarmed critics of the rising progressive tide. According to Voegelin, you cannot eliminate the religious instinct. “When God is invisible behind the world, the contents of the world will become new gods; when the symbols of transcendent religiosity are banned, new symbols develop from the inner-worldly language of science to take their place.” Translation: When you rely on science and technology to do God’s job, it won’t be long before you worship science as a god. Marxism, the apotheosis of progressivism, purged the divine and replaced it with materialism. For the Marxist, proclaimed Voegelin, “Christ the Redeemer is replaced by the steam engine as the promise of the realm to come.” For many people today, the steam engine has been replaced by the embryonic stem cell as the promise of the realm to come.
But virtually all religions have at the core of their faith the concept of the "Wrong Turn thesis," when man left his idyllic past, a theory that, as Jonah wrote, “Almost all committed environmentalists subscribe to some variant:"
[Al] Gore is more eloquent than most in this regard. He rhapsodizes about the need for authenticity and meaning through collective action: he uses an endless serious of violent metaphors in which people must be “resistance fighters” against the putatively Nazi regime responsible for the new Holocaust of global warming (again, on the left, the enemy is always a Nazi.) Gore alternately blames Plato, Descartes, and Francis Bacon as the white male serpents who tempted mankind to take a wrong turn out of an Edenic past. What is required is to reunite our intellects, or spiritual impulses, and our animalistic instincts into a new holistic balance. Nothing could be more fascistic.
In his infamous "Daisy" ad from 1964, LBJ sternly warned, "These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark."
With their hatred of electric light -- not to mention most of the ways of producing electricity itself -- Johnson's successors have certainly made it clear that they prefer the latter option these days. I'd say they want to take us back to the era of stone knives and bearskins, but (speaking of wrong turns out of an Edenic past!), PETA would likely rather we all go naked than wear the latter.
Related: Joel Kotkin on California's "War On Itself:"
California is in danger of becoming, as historian Kevin Starr has warned, a “failed state.”
What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city—as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.
Speaking of which, Paul Krugman begins in his latest column with his own moral equivalent of war reference, paraphrasing (as a plea for higher taxes and greater spending of course) Sir Edward Grey on the eve of World War I: "The lights are going out all over America — literally."
But shouldn't the gangs responsible for "Earth Hour", "A Weekend without Oil", the postmodern/pre-industrial "Dam Busters" and the like consider this a feature, not a bug?
Related: "The assassination of King Coal."
Update: Welcome Corner readers!
By the way, a famous quote from Pete Seeger, uttered to the New York Times about 15 years ago, is worth tacking onto this post:
I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.
Meanwhile, CNN notes, "U.S. electricity blackouts skyrocketing" -- the Professor responds with a very straightforward solution.
Related: "Greenpeace needs ‘to bring in more than $700,000 a day just to keep the lights on’" -- shouldn't they be enjoying "Earth Hour" 24 hours a day, instead?