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"New Mad Hysteria": condoms for climate change

When one of the grandmas in the gym locker room- gossiping before aqua-aerobics in their full-bellied, full-skirted bathing suits- referred to the Barcelona’s unusually warm weather this winter as “calentamiento global” (global warming), I began to suspect that the concept had tipped (to borrow Malcolm Gladwell’s now nearly universal phrase for when a trend goes mainstream).

Last month, when New York City’s Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg
proposed charging drivers to enter Manhattan- a congestion tax that was
just one of 127 environmental initiatives including, requiring
commercial buildings to provide indoor bike parking-, I knew it had
moved beyond party affiliations.

course, Republican Governor Schwarzenegger has been talking greenhouse
gases and Kyoto for California for awhile, but now there’s the UK
Conservative leader David Cameron who bikes to work (though followed by
a car carrying his boxes) and who has proposed such limits on personal
freedom as individual flight allowances under his Greener Skies plan. And today, no matter how conservative, nearly every American politician has to bow to the ethanol gods.

the news this past week made me think perhaps the idea of global
warming and, more tellingly, the cries for behavioral change, have
gained cult-like acceptance. The tone was set last Friday when Rajendra
Pachauri, chairman of the UN panel on global warming (the IPCC)
suggested- as a partial solution to his group’s warning that we must
limit global warming to 2.0-2.4 °C to avoid catastrophic climate
change- that we turn down the thermostat at the office and eat less red
meat (to cut down on animal methane emissions). Considering our
carnivorous habit is not all that new, I was surprised to see it
reported on by the mainstream press without a hiccup.

Children as eco-crimes 

When major newspapers reported on how having children can be seen as an eco-crime, as the Guardian and Telegraph did this Monday (as well as the Sunday Times),
I started to feel uncomfortable as part of this green sect. The
Guardian’s story, like the rest, laid out with all the requisite
buzzwords, explained how, according to a recent report by The Optimum Population Trust
(OPT), “having a third child increases a family’s carbon footprint by
the equivalent of 620 return flights between London and New York” and
that the “climate cost” of every Briton was about £30,000.

Coming from a family of six, I’m not sure I’m comfortable knowing my
climate cost or, given that I was #2, that if my mother hadn’t
committed four eco-crimes (according to the OPT, any more than 2 is
“criminal”) I shouldn’t have known my younger siblings, though this
kind of dire news regarding family size isn’t new to my mother or the
mainstream press.

In 1962 the cover of Newsweek asked “Too Many Babies?” and my mother’s
reading of Paul Ehrlich’s best selling-book The Population Bomb,
published in the late sixties, caused her to seriously consider
stopping at three children. But back then no one associated children
with climate change (I don’t think many outside of Al Gore’s mentor,
Roger Revelle- who wrote a “global warming”-related research paper in
1957- had even heard of it).

worst case scenario resulting from overpopulation had nothing to do
with carbon emissions, but with mass famine. He predicted that “in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death“.

Those who killed the electric car have converted

This Tuesday, it was General Motors- whose environmental record has
been characterized by their crushing of their electric car prototypes,
the EV1s, as captured in the documentary Who Killed The Electric Car?
who joined the Kyoto cult, becoming the first automaker to announce
that they were in favor of federal caps on greenhouse gas emissions. 

could be seen as a PR move in reaction to a US senate committee’s
recent adoption of a 35-mile per gallon fuel-efficiency plan, but it
seemed particularly ironic that just one year ago this month a group GM
had helped finance, the Competitive Enterprise Institute
(CEI), released television ads to discredit climate change threats with
the tagline “Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution; we call it life.”

Neutrality (carbon, that is) for an allegedly not-so-neutral media empire

With yesterday’s news I felt convinced… we’ve all drunk the kool-aid.
Conservative News Corp chairman, Rupert Murdoch, announced to employees
at a company meeting that he would take them carbon neutral within four
years time, but more surprisingly- for the head of a media enterprise
with notoriously conservative outlets- he spoke about inspiring
audiences to reduce their carbon footprint by “weav(ing) this issue
into our content”. 

is big news considering that News Corp is better known for comments
like that of the admittedly conservative Fox News commentator Sean
Hannity who called global warming “new mad hysteria” and the New York Post movie critic Kyle Smith’s denouncement of “An Inconvenient Truth“- not as a critique of production value, but on the facts, calling Gore’s message “absurd” and delivering his own opinion on the topic.

is wide disagreement about whether humans are causing global warming
(climate change preceded the invention of the Escalade) and about
whether we should be worried about the trends. Look carefully at Gore’s
charts and you’ll see that the worst horrors take place in the future
of his imagination.”

One year after that seminal documentary’s
release, Murdoch has challenged his employees to “revolutionize the
message”, though he stops short of turning News Corp into a source of
green propaganda.

there are limits to how far we can push this issue in our content. Not
every hero on television can drive a hybrid car
. Often times it just
won’t fit. We must avoid preaching. And there has to be substance
behind the glitz.

Perhaps he’s bowing to pressure from
advertisers who, as even he admits, are asking “for ways to reach
audiences on this issue,” but his newfound green religion is more than
just talk. Besides his own recent purchase of a hybrid car (and his
offer of a $2000 subsidy for employees who choose to do the same), his
proposals for reaching company-wide carbon neutrality include:

  • The recently launched solar-powered golf carts on the 20th Century Fox movie studio lots in Hollywood.

  • Replacing regular vehicles with hybrid cars at News Digital Media.

  • Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs at its newspaper offices.

  • A renewable energy plan for the studio housing the tv series 24 which includes biodiesel generators.

  • A new climate change channel
    launched by MySpace whose tagline reads, “The science is clear: our
    climate is changing at an alarming rate, and human actions are the
    cause. The hard truth: You may be part of the problem, but here at
    OurPlanet, you can also be part of the solution. Find out what YOU can
    do in your day-to-day life to make a measurable difference.” Today’s
    story is hosted by musician and 1% for the Planet member Jack Johnson.

Surprisingly, for a relatively new
carbon neutral advocate, Murdoch seems to have a deeper knowledge than
the knee-jerk reaction to simply buy carbon credits. He called these “a
last resort” (I strongly agree)
and although News Corp will begin buying them soon from an Indian wind
power company, this is just to offset “unavoidable” emissions.

The deprogramming has begun

Now, I’m not arguing
that the global warming debate and our global acknowledgement of the
need for behavioral change went mainstream this week, but this week I
recognized how far we’ve gone beyond just a recognition of the science.

there are still deniers and those indisposed to give up their
carbon-intensive habits, I am feeling hopeful about how surprisingly
willing many previous holdouts have been to take up the cause. 

conversion has to happen nearly universally if we’re going to reach the
the IPCC deadline of 2015 for when greenhouse gas emissions must start
to decline. That’s just eight years to redesign our modes of transport,
re-legislate our business models, and continue reprogramming the way we

Or maybe it’s not reprogramming, but deprogramming.
It’s really more logical to see this recent shift in paradigm as our
collective rescue from two hundred years of carbon addiction initiated
by the Industrial Revolution.

of the proposals for behavioral change may seem extreme- categorizing
having more than two children as an eco-crime, as an example-, but when
you consider that eight years is very little time to undo two centuries
of institutionalized thinking, every solution should be listened to.

really, I was hasty to analogize this recent fervor for the cause with
that of members of a sect. Perhaps no one is joining a cult of the
greens, but rather we’re all finally emerging from a cult of carbon