March 26, 2007

Eco-Preeners

An instant classic by Charles Krauthammer at Time. Here's a longish excerpt, but read it all.

Goldman Sachs has been one of the most aggressive firms on Wall Street about taking action on climate change; the company sends its bankers home at night in hybrid limousines.

--The New York Times, Feb. 25

Written without a hint of irony--if only your neighborhood dry cleaner sent his employees home by hybrid limousine--this front-page dispatch captured perfectly the eco-pretensions of the rich and the stupefying gullibility with which they are received.

Remember the Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore global-warming pitch at the Academy Awards? Before they spoke, the screen at the back of the stage flashed not-so-subliminal messages about how to save the planet. My personal favorite was "Ride mass transit." This to a conclave of Hollywood plutocrats who have not seen the inside of a subway since the moon landing and for whom mass transit means a stretch limo seating no fewer than 10.

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A very few of the very rich have some awareness of the emptiness--if not the medieval corruption--of ransoming one's sins. Sergey Brin, zillionaire founder of Google, buys carbon credits to offset the ghastly amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Google's private Boeing 767 but confesses he's not sure if it really does anything.

Which puts him one step ahead of most other eco-preeners who actually pretend that it does--the Goracle himself, for example. His Tennessee mansion consumes 20 times the electricity used by the average American home. Last August alone it consumed twice as much power as the average home consumes in a year. Gore buys absolution, however. He spends pocket change on carbon credits, which then allow him to pollute conscience-free.

What is wrong with this scam? First, purchasing carbon credits is an incentive to burn even more fossil fuels, since now it is done under the illusion that it's really cost-free to the atmosphere.

Second, it is a way for the rich to export the real costs and sacrifices of pollution control to the poorer segments of humanity in the Third World. (Apparently, Hollywood's plan is to make up for that by adopting every last one of their children.) For example, GreenSeat, a Dutch carbon-trading outfit, buys offsets from a foundation that plants trees in Uganda's Mount Elgon National Park to soak up the carbon emissions of its rich Western patrons. Small problem: expanding the park encroaches on land traditionally used by local farmers. As a result, reports the New York Times, "villagers living along the boundary of the park have been beaten and shot at, and their livestock has been confiscated by armed park rangers." All this so that swimming pools can be heated and Maseratis driven with a clear conscience in the fattest parts of the world.

Posted by dan at March 26, 2007 10:04 AM