Acton Institute Powerblog

The Real Zombie Lies on Earth Day

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Earth Day has arrived once again, and all those nasty predictions about the environment made since the inaugural event in 1970 have yet to pass. In fact, many of the threats themselves have passed entirely. The population bomb never exploded, the Earth didn’t experience another Ice Age and we’ve managed to avoid a Malthusian dystopia. In fact, we’re doing quite well, thank you very much. Mother Earth is cleaner while, at the same time, the planet’s population living in poverty has been halved within the past two decades.

Try telling that to Home Box Office’s Real Time host Bill Maher, who calls arguments from climate-change skeptics “Zombie Lies.” The man who grants himself absolution for his own carbon footprint because he drives an electric vehicle, delivered an epic rant against Republicans, the Koch brothers and the oil industry this past week on his program’s “New Rules” segment. Republican politicians and aspirants, reasons Maher, are only skeptical regarding climate change because they’re bought-and-paid for by donations from the fossil-fuel industry.

Maher, of course, is free to believe (or, infamously, not to believe when it comes to matters requiring religious faith) anything he wishes, but a certain logical consistency is lacking. While he berates the oil and gas industries and Republican politicians, and smugly drives a rechargeable electric vehicle (apparently, one assumes, recharged from an energy source derived from fossil fuels), the clip linked above stops just prior to Maher announcing personal appearances in cities far away from Los Angeles, Calif.

Certainly Maher earns enough as a pay-TV host to be comfortable without taking his shtick on the road? In the name of climate-change awareness, shouldn’t he eschew the extra lucre earned on-the-road for the sake of the environment? One could make much the same argument about Maher’s feigned disgust at corporate money in politics after he donated $1 million of his own money to President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Zombie Lies, indeed.

In fairness, I don’t begrudge Maher’s moneymaking opportunities and political largesse. In fact, I celebrate them, but only wish he’d be less hypocritical about his stances concerning climate-change and freedom of political speech.

The truth of the environmental matter is that the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts worked in tandem to help tidy up the Earth’s atmosphere, bodies of water and land from pollutants and particulates. However, pollution in the United States and most developed nations already was decreasing before 1970. New technologies displaced dirtier ones. For example, the catalytic convertor reduced automotive emissions by up to 90 percent since its introduction in the 1970s. Add to that argument cleaner burning fuels, which include nonleaded gasoline, fuel additives and natural gas.

“All too often,” wrote William McGurn in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, “the vision of man here is as the despoiler, speeding the planet along the path to doom and destruction.” He continues:

In this reading, modern technology is almost always an enemy, progress is illusory and more babies mean more carbon footprints melting the ice caps where polar bears live. Indeed, the number of environmentalists who end up embracing population control is astounding. Likewise their language, which tends to be apocalyptic – from Paul Ehrlich calling his book The Population Bomb to the conservationist Paul Watson characterizing humans as ‘the AIDS of the earth.”…

How many African children died, for example, when the use of DDT on the continent—arguably the most effective anti-mosquito insecticide—declined after the U.S. banned it in 1972 on the basis of pop science? Along the same lines, when we measure the costs of fossil fuels, shouldn’t we include the human costs that result when restrictions on fossil fuels would mean denying hundreds of millions of people in the developing world the life-enhancing improvements that come from cheaper energy?

In its unwillingness to consider such trade-offs, modern environmentalism at times takes on the aspects of an authoritarian religion for the wealthy, with its own Eden (earth before man ruined it); its heretics (skeptics about man’s contributions to global warming are “deniers”); and its indulgences (make up for your corporate jet by driving a Prius).

We are called by God to be good stewards of the Earth, McGurn reminds us. We are also called to take care of the world’s poorest – as well as helping them take care of themselves. This includes, for the time being, burning fossil fuels for cheap energy with which to provide electricity for hospitals, homes and businesses. It’s a trade-off to be sure, but a fairly minimal one when it comes to taking care of the least of us. Even those who don’t believe in God, such as Maher, should recognize the needs of the poor.

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.