What if Environmentalism is a Big Mistake?

For reasons I’ll explain, the current hot weather reminds me of Humpty Dumpty.

According to the pioneering journalist, Mother Goose, this famous egg took a great fall, scrambling so completely that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.” Since this high cholesterol calamity must have been like frying an egg on the sidewalk, I began to ponder Mr. Dumpty’s fate after my automobile air conditioner ran out of coolant. The recharge cost 10 times what it once did, an inflationary fact underscoring that, unless “drop-in” replacements become available, the next time the conditioner goes on the fritz, I may have to buy an entirely new unit. And it really frosts me that this extra expense would be totally unnecessary.

Coolants known as chlorofluorocarbons are being banned because some scientists convinced Congress they damage the stratospheric ozone layer that shields us from ultraviolet radiation deemed to cause melanoma, a deadly cancer. But growing evidence suggests this is false. Ozone levels are not declining, but vary with sunspot cycles. Ground-level ultraviolet radiation is apparently not increasing. And ozone probably does not guard us from the UV wave­lengths that cause melanoma.

So I wonder: If a soft-boiled nursery rhyme character could not be reconstituted after a mishap, can society be unscrambled when environmentalists push it off the wall? What if the case against CFCs is mere ideological meringue whipped up by rotten egg­heads? What if the whole big soufflé of gloomy scenarios – global warming, species extinction, dioxin, asbestos, soil erosion, deforestation and poisonous odors of baking bread falls flat?

In defending the environmental agenda, many activists offer a version of Pascal’s wager. “Taking action,” they insist, “costs society little, but doing nothing invites catastrophe.” Yet when the inevitable social sacrifices are pointed out to them, they add, ominously, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

Thus egged-on by activists, government whips up laws that cost consumers millions, put countless people out of work, create new hazards and limit liberty. And while these burdensome legislative yokes may turn out to be justified, mounting evidence suggests otherwise. It is at least possible the agenda is unnecessary.

And if so, if the public discovers such social dislocation was unwarranted, it can never be undone. Reversing the effects of environmentalism would be like trying to hatch a poached egg. Changing direction would be economically costly, humanly difficult and politically impossible.

Phasing out CFCs will cost trillions, promote toxic substitutes and spread disease in countries that cannot afford the price of conversion. Clinton’s Global Warming Action Plan alone, inaccurately described as “voluntary,” carries a price tag to consumers of $60 billion for such things as forced manufacture of more efficient home appliances (such as refrigerators, which, of course, meanwhile will be rendered more wasteful by the CFC phase out).

Likewise, efforts to end grazing and logging will kill rural culture, as we know it. One such initiative, known as the Wildlands Project, was described by the journal “Science” as calling “for a network of wilderness reserves, human buffer zones and wild­life corridors stretching across huge tracts of land – hundreds of millions of acres, as much as half of the continent.”

But after we spend big bucks converting to new coolants, we won’t fork over more to turn back. Nor can countryside easily be repopulated once it is unsettled. Most important, abolishing environmental laws would require government to shrink, which is a contradiction in terms. The Environmental Protection Agency is forever, and the likely political effect of anti-environmental backlash is more regulation, not less.

While the media has been making much of the fact that Watergate triggered declining trust of government, this cynicism will pale into insignificance compared with the disillusionment following revelations about the environmental agenda. And history shows that as regimes lose their legitimacy, they rely less on moral suasion and more on force.

Right or wrong, therefore, environmentalism leads to big government. The phrases that comprise rules and regulations cannot be erased as if they were written in pencil. Once civilization is dismantled, it can never be mantled again.

Which brings us back to Humpty Dumpty, who like today’s lawmakers suffered from the illusion that he had complete control of language, and through this, events. As reported by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass, he told the story’s heroine, Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

But he was wrong. Words, like laws, have unintended consequences. As the Red Queen explained to Alice, “It’s too late to correct it. When you’ve once said a thing, that fixes it, and you must take the consequences.”

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