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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Al Gore and Carbon Offsets

Just a day after Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Oscar and Gore himself was feted by the Hollywood millionaires and billionaires, another inconvenient truth emerged. It turns out that Mr. and Mrs. Gore live in a 20 room Nashville mansion with a separate pool house that consumes about 20 times the energy of the typical American home. The Gores gas and electric bill for their Nashville mansion was $30,000 in 2006. It has exposed Mr. Gore to the charge of hypocrisy since he is the country’s most visible exponent of energy conservation as part of his much publicized effort to save the planet from environmental doom via anthropomorphic (man made) global warming.

Mr. Gore’s spokesmen and defenders have rushed to his defense by claiming, among other things, that he uses fluorescent light bulbs, is installing solar panels, and is paying for electricity from the Green Power Switch Program. Opponents point out that irrespective of his Green Power bills, he is getting his electricity and gas from the nearest power plants, which are definitely not “green.” Meanwhile George Bush's Crawford ranch appears to be a model of environmetal efficiency.

Finally, Gore’s statement says that:
Gore has had a consistent position of purchasing carbon offsets to offset the family’s carbon footprint — a concept the right-wing fails to understand.

Ed Morrissey, who blogs at Captain’s Quarters makes this trenchant observation:

…purchasing offsets only means that Gore doesn't want to make the same kind of sacrifices that he's asking other families to make. He's using a modern form of indulgences in order to avoid doing the penance that global-warming activism demands of others. It means that the very rich can continue to suck up energy and raise the price and the demand for electricity and natural gas, while families struggle with their energy costs and face increasing government regulation and taxation.

Some have called the purchase of carbon offsets the moral equivalent of buying ”indulgences” from the medieval Catholic church. Others have compared it to the men who paid substitutes to fight for them in the Civil War.

There is some truth in both comparisons. I would like to enter a third comparison: the sumptuary laws. Sumptuary laws were much in vogue during the medieval times as well as periods of time in colonial America.

Sumptuary laws (from Latin sumtuariae leges) were laws that regulated and reinforced social hierarchies and morals through restrictions on clothing, food, and luxury expenditures. They were an easy way to identify social rank and privilege, and were usually used for social discrimination. This frequently meant preventing commoners from imitating the appearance of aristocrats, and sometimes also to stigmatize disfavored groups. In the Late Middle Ages sumptuary laws were instated as a way for the nobility to cap the conspicuous consumption of the up-and-coming bourgeoisie of medieval cities.

Note that the people who are at the forefront of the environmental movement, men like Al Gore and the Hollywood glitterati who gave him a standing ovation for this environmental stands were not even momentarily inconvenienced by the rules they have tried to have the rest of the planet adopt. The arrived by private plane and stretch limousine, to over-lighted and air-conditioned auditoriums, to see and be seen by millions of Americans via carbon destroying video systems without even a thought to the impact of their wretched excess on the planet.

But hypocrisy is really not the danger here. We are all hypocrites, each of us pretending to be better than we are. The danger is that the use of “carbon offsets” will create two things that re morally monstrous: a de-facto sumptuary law and the impoverishments of the poor and powerless of this planet.

The creation of an aristocratic elite that differentiates itself from the hoi polloi by its ability to buy “carbon offsets” while the rest of the planet is forced by environmental laws into a smaller and smaller carbon straightjacket is not so far fetched. What is government run by the environmentalists of Gore’s stripe to do if the people won’t give up their wasteful SUVs?

“There ought to be a law” will be the battle cry from the Federal agencies, the green groups, the obscenely rich and the publishers of the leading MSM voices (whose owners are summering on their Hampton estates). And who will have the resources to buy out of the environmental sumptuary laws? Why the likes of Al Gore, the Hollywood mega-millionaires and those who inherit media empires. They are, after all, busy making the planet safe for “the children” and need the room, the comfort, the private jets and limos as they toil in the vineyards of public policy for the good of the rest of us.

But as carbon offsets become mainstream, who is to provide those offsets? A momentary thought reveals that allowing Al Gore and his ilk to expend prodigious amounts of greenhouse gases while the rest of the planet stands still will not do anything to reduce the dreaded CO2 problem. What will be needed will be the sacrifice of others. The carbon footprint of the bushmen of the Kalahari is small indeed when compared to that of “Inconvenient Al.” When carbon offsets by planting trees is found to be insufficient or even counterproductive (some complain that a tree gives off more CO2 during decomposition that it absorbs while it is alive) the real gains to be made in carbon offsets is in the great masses of people. Imagine the reduction in carbon emissions if our betters reduce the human population to the Homo sapiens version of the chicken farm. Pile us into small apartment coops, take away our frivolous cars and replace them with “public transportation.” How about a law requiring us to work from home to makes us that much more energy efficient. I am sure that there will be studies to point out how little place it actually takes for an average family to live...but not he Gore family.

Carbon offsets have been embraced by a certain element of the Libertarian and Conservative movement as a free-market answer to the problem of pollution. But that’s because the secondary effects of such a concept have not been considered. Carbon offsets can have the effect of keeping poor people in perpetual poverty and reducing those who are trying to climb out of poverty bake into destitution.

Far fetched? Read this:
East Africa
A Norwegian firm called Tree Farms (or Fjordgløtt, as it was then called) started operations in Uganda and Tanzania (and later in Malawi). In Uganda, it obtained a very cheap 50-year lease on 5,160 hectares east of the town Jinja in the Bukaleba Forest Reserve on Lake Victoria. Tree Farms planned to plant the land mainly with eucalyptus and fast-growing pines. The project has been criticised for forcing people in five communities off their lands and paying too low rent for the land
Imagine the revenue from carbon offsets one of the African kleptocracies can generate by impoverishing its miserable population even farther to provide carbon offsets to Al Gore and those who wish to erase their carbon footprint by any means necessary.


David Foster said...

"sumptuary laws" excellent analogy!

Fat Man said...




But though the profusion of government must, undoubtedly, have retarded the natural progress of England towards wealth and improvement, it has not been able to stop it. The annual produce of its land and labour is, undoubtedly, much greater at present than it was either at the Restoration or at the Revolution. The capital, therefore, annually employed in cultivating this land, and in maintaining this labour, must likewise be much greater. In the midst of all the exactions of government, this capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement in almost all former times, and which, it is to be hoped, will do so in all future times. England, however, as it has never been blessed with a very parsimonious government, so parsimony has at no time been the characteristical virtue of its inhabitants. It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.

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