One of our frequent contributors points out that today's American diplomats are increasingly required to think green as well as red, white, and blue as they work to promote national interests. Yet too much of the global climate change discussion involves demonization and gotchas driven by ideological polarization. According to this essay, we should be thinking mostly in terms of tradeoffs. Ed .
Zsa Zsa Gabor, perhaps apocryphally, is attributed with saying that "After 40, it's your face or your fanny."
That is, there is a tradeoff in life between staying slimly fit (the fanny) and keeping your face wrinkle-free. Alternatively, plump (and wrinkle-free) faces meant that the nether regions of our bodies also expanded.
While "Botox" may now allow some to avoid the stark Gaborian judgment, in other areas the concept of tradeoffs continues to rule. Thus if you buy a home in the Washington suburbs, you can live relatively close to the city and reduce commuting time, but you will own a smaller, older home in a built up area. If you want a larger, more modern home on a more expansive property beyond the Beltway, you live further away from the city and spend more time commuting. Neither is a universally "right" choice; but recognizing your tradeoffs is essential. It is silly to buy that modern home on a quarter acre lotand then complain all the time about the length of commute.
Tradeoffssometimes masquerading as "opportunity costs"are constant problems for those of us who want it all (without commensurate cost). And so it is with environmentalism/global warming/"greens"/tree-huggers/climate change deniers in all their politically correct or pejorative labels.
So from the "micro" to the "macro" let us examine some of the shades of green in play.
Making Light of the Matter
At this point, hybrids are clearly improving in quality (speed/acceleration) and are available in a wider range of models. They have yet to break out of the niche market of upper scale, more socially conscious "green" buyers who can afford to pay more.
Micro Power and Macro Power
But major industries, manufacturing operations, transportation nets and the like need huge amounts of "macro" power--which are created by massive hydroelectric facilities, coal/gas/oil fired power plants, or nuclear reactors. We wish to eliminate "dirty" coal fired power plants; however, converting to natural gas is expensive and such gas is increasingly costly (as well as being a key ingredient for much of the chemical industry). Parenthetically, there are those who say that using natural gas for home heating is akin to washing windows with champagne. Moreover, coal is widespread (the United States is estimated to have a 250-year supply) and inexpensive; using more rather than less would enhance national security instead of burning oil or natural gas. Apparently headed in this direction, China reportedly is scheduled to add 562 coal-fired plants over the next eight yearscheap with proven technology.
Should one press for nuclear energy as an alternative? Proponents tout its "clean" nonpolluting nature and security from foreign disruption of oil/gas. A number of countries, including Canada, France, Korea, and Japan have committed heavily to nuclear power; others such as Austria, afflicted with nuclear allergy, have eliminated nuclear reactors or project doing so (Germany). The United States still has the greatest nuclear capacity; however, no new commercial reactor has come on line since 1996. Ostensibly, the government has sought to ease the certification process, but it has been over 20 years since construction began on a new nuclear reactor. Moreover, it appears to take approximately 10 years to construct a reactor; one, which began commercial operation in 1996, started construction in 1972. Not to put too fine a point on it, popular acceptance of nuclear power remains in serious question and resistance to various proposals for disposal of radioactive waste continues to make significant expansion of nuclear energy problematic. And instances such as the earthquake damage sustained by Japan's largest nuclear reactor in July 2007 make nuclear power an even harder sell.
All of these choices from light bulbs to nuclear power reactors (and many others) have pluses and minuses. They are not "right" or "wrong" by definition. Countries and individuals can decide to adopt and/or support some, all, or none of the above based on rational, logical, economically grounded decisions.
One can examine "green" related decisions on the basis of:
"Green" issues are neither inherently liberal nor conservative. After all, concern for the general welfare is a "liberal" tradition. And, in essence a "conservative" wishes to conserve; for example, in the United States, one of the first and most energetic conservationists was President Theodore Roosevelt.
Nor are green concerns limited to developed versus developing states. Nor should they be the preserve of one set of developed states. However, when developing states surpass developed states in generating greenhouse gases, it is unlikely that countries such as the United States will embrace Kyoto Treaty-directed restrictions when economic competitors such as China and India do not.
Consequently, demonization rather than debate over "green" issues is inherently self destructive and unproductive. Those wrapping themselves in green all too often leave the impression of days-of-yore Puritans who could not stand the thought that somewhere there was someone who was having fun. Or they project the personalities of old time commissars who were most happy when audiences were forced to memorize the vaporings of a Great Leader. It is not demonic to drive an SUV. Reading critiques of global warming is not the equivalent of fondling child porn. Equating critics of green logic with Holocaust denial or Neville Chamberlain-level error may win sound bites, but it won't win converts.
As for the push back from those being criticized, it seems to concentrate on "gotcha" style denunciation of hypocrisy, such as the amount of energy consumed by the Al Gore Tennessee home in contrast to the George W. Bush Texas home or whether the iconic Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki, should have driven a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle when traveling across Canada making "green" pitches. Or whether all of the environmentalists should get out of their private planes and walk, etc. But real men can eat granola and ride bicycles to work. "Tree-hugging femi-Nazis" may be a satisfying rejoinder for those being depicted as Gaia rapists but is more likely to contribute to global overheating than cooler discussions.
To a degree, debate over the societal shade of green we wish to adopt is a reflection of luxury. There are prudent efficiencies that can be implemented without economic ruin. And perhaps a pink filter on that fluorescent bulb will prevent looking like a corpse in your bathroom mirror.
U.S. Foreign Policy