Czech President Vaclav Klaus, drawing on his memories of Soviet oppression, recently declared that the global warming hysteria had replaced Communism as "the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy, and prosperity."
The environmentalists continue to do their best to prove him right.
In making the parallel to Communism, President Klaus cited the use of environmentalism as a justification for global central planning. But it is not just the vast scale of the controls proposed by environmentalists that is so revealing; it is also the detail. There is no aspect of life too trivial or intimate (as Sheryl Crow infamously reminded us) to fall outside of this new ideological regimentation.
A bit of the flavor of the coming environmentalist police state is provided by a new Australian television show titled "Carbon Cops." In a bizarre inversion of the typical American home improvement show, the experts in this show descend on the hapless homeowners to measure their "carbon footprint," the amount of fossil fuels involved in the manufacture and use of every item in their house. The "carbon cops" are shown rummaging through a family's smallest household items, searching for global warming contraband—and then scolding them for "polluting" the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Each week they don their orange monogrammed shirts to cordon off the toxic home of an Australian family. They arrive with energy-auditing gadgetry, sobering statistics, and lips and eyebrows curled in withering admonishment. They rate these people, shame them, then challenge them to do better.
And what sort of things are these people supposed to be ashamed of? One family, the Barries, are scolded for their overuse of light bulbs, "Dad's overseas business travel, their swimming pool and boat," while the Lane family is taken to task for their "six TVs, three DVD players, five or six computers, 12 freshly laundered towels a day."
In case you don't get the message, the author of this report sums it up for you: "Taken together, the case studies are not about individual scapegoats as much as an indictment of Western affluence, negligence, and self-obsession." Ah yes, the inexcusable self-indulgence of wanting to bathe with freshly laundered towels. How can we live with ourselves?
The victims on this television show are voluntary, the only weapon used against them is social disapproval, and the whole thing could be laughed off—if not for the fact that our political leaders are preparing the way for the real carbon cops who will enforce the "carbon taxes" and impose the "cap and trade" rationing scheme needed to meet the environmentalists' goal of constricting the world's energy use. Australia's "carbon cops" may be fictional, but they are the harbinger of a real attempt to use the power of the state to strip us of the accoutrements of prosperity: our light bulbs, our cars, our televisions, our freshly laundered towels.
Part of what Vaclav Klaus was sensing—what gives this all the faint whiff of totalitarianism—is the global warming alarmists' eagerness to reach into the smallest details of our private existence and re-arrange our lifestyle to fit the austere requirements of their political ideology. A recent article in the Sacramento Bee captures the paternalistic fervor in the California statehouse:
Besides the light bulb bill [a de facto ban on the sale of incandescent light bulbs], the Assembly voted this month to require toilets that use less water, ban restaurants from using trans fats, and to create a $250 million program to subsidize sales of solar water heaters costing $6,000 apiece. The Assembly considered, but rejected under pressure from the auto industry, legislation designed to benefit the environment by assessing a $2,500 surcharge on the sale of gas-guzzling vehicles to fund rebates for fuel-efficient models.
But those with a lust to control every detail of human life are not content merely to control what we do. They also want to control what we think.
We have seen in recent decades the largest peacetime outpouring of government propaganda, all devoted to convincing us that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing a global warming catastrophe. The German government, for example, has begun paying authors to inundate Wikipedia with articles boosting "renewable resources." So much for the Internet as the ultimate free marketplace for ideas: now one cartel will be supported by government subsidies.
Along with the campaign to subsidize government-approved speech, there always comes an attempt to suppress speech that challenges the official line. The designation of those who challenge the global warming scare stories as global warming "deniers"—smearing them as the equivalent of Holocaust deniers—has introduced the hard edge of dogmatism and character assassination to the public debate. The implications of this phrase were made clear by another Australian. (Apparently Australia, like Britain, is a few steps ahead of America in how seriously it takes its global warming dogma.) Referring to a British historian who was jailed for denying the existence of the Holocaust, leftist Australian journalist Margo Kingston growled: "David Irving is under arrest in Austria for Holocaust denial. Perhaps there is a case for making climate change denial an offense—it is a crime against humanity after all." (This quote appears at Kingston's former blog; see item #8.)
Kingston is a leftist provocateur and has gone beyond what the mainstream of the left has so far contemplated—but only a little beyond. Back in the United States, the left is still gingerly working to prepare the ground for green censorship, with Al Gore branding right-wing dissent an "assault on reason" that has "broken" the marketplace of ideas—which requires government intervention to fix. The fix is now being prepared in the form of a regulatory assault on right-leaning talk radio, among other initiatives.
For those seeking to justify this kind of all-encompassing government control, global warming is the best candidate to come along since the collapse of Marxism. Like Marxism, environmentalism steals the "scientific" aura of an established field—but in this case it has invaded the "hard sciences," which carry greater prestige than economics. And unlike previous environmentalist crusades, global warming is a threat that is global in scope and total and all-encompassing in its detailed application to human life. Other pollution scares—DDT, acid rain, the ozone layer—required only the banning of a single product or control over a single industry. None was big enough to require control of the entire economy over the period of a century, nor could any claim to be so urgent as to make dissent an "irresponsible" act that is not to be tolerated.
Global warming provides a basis for all of these claims: urgent action is needed, we are told, or the catastrophic effects will be irreversible. But to reverse global warming will require massive reductions in our use of power, requiring a total restructuring of the economy—and the deployment of the "carbon cops" to police every parsimonious detail of our everyday lives.
And this global warming police state has one big advantage over Marxism: it makes a virtue of the chronic shortages and privation that were such a mortal embarrassment to Communism. This time, the left won't have to explain away the lines at the stores, the decade-long waiting lists for tin-can automobiles, even the scarcity of decent toilet paper. These are not failures of the system: they are the goal of the system. They are all necessary to reduce our "carbon footprint."
A perceptive reader suggested to me recently that when left claims that "the science is settled" in the global warming controversy, what they really mean is that the political science of the issue is settled. The global warming hysteria reinforces all of their settled anti-capitalist prejudices—and it provides an open-ended justification for the central, dominant, overpowering role they think government ought to play in the individual's life.
No, we haven't arrived at a green dictatorship—we're nowhere near it. But with all of the environmentalists' talk about the long-term consequences of our actions decades or centuries from now, we should subject their agenda to the same scrutiny. What ideological direction are they taking us, what kind of political and economic system are they seeking to impose—and what will happen to our liberty and prosperity, the day after tomorrow?