The Countertop Chronicles

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Gore Wars

With Earth Day behind us and the doomsday environmental scaremongering industry set to unleash its latest money making scheme scheme upon the sheeple, its worth reminding ourselves of the big myths these folks keep propogating (pay special attention to the financial ones) and re-reading Judge Kozinski's classic science fiction tome The Gore Wars.

Here's a bit of the intro, to whet your appetite.

Unless you’ve been frozen in carbonite or are hopelessly gullible, it must have occurred to you at some point during the last three decades that environmental activists are exaggerating just a bit when they claim that, unless we dramatically change our way of life, we’ll soon see the end of civilization as we know it. I’m not sure when these doomsday predictions got started — probably they go back to Malthus and beyond — but I first became aware of environmental Jeremiadism in college in the early 1970s, when tout-le-monde were reading a little book called The Limits to Growth. 1 Authored by a group of scientists going by the pretentious name “The Club of Rome,” the book was designed as a shrill wake-up call to a complacent humanity headed for environmental disaster. 2 Filled with charts, tables and diagrams, and supported by computer-generated predictions (a new-fangled tool at the time), The Limits of Growth made some very concrete and highly alarming predictions: “there will . . . be a desperate [arable] land shortage before the year 2000”; 3 we would run short of gold by 1979, of silver and mercury by 1983, of petroleum by 1990, of zinc by 1988, of tin by 1985 and of natural gas by 1992. 4 The book’s forceful message was that we were headed for a world-wide calamity, and must fundamentally — and immediately — change the way we live. Nor was this merely a question of physical survival; at stake was humanity’s very soul: “The crux of the matter is not only whether the human species will survive, but even more whether it can survive without falling into a state of worthless existence.” 5

“Wow! Heavy!,” as we used to say in those days. The book definitely made you feel guilty about taking a trip in your gas-guzzling, airpolluting, resource-wasting Millennium Falcon to go hiking in the Great Outdoors. It was almost enough to make you walk the twelve parsecs to the Forest of Endor and back.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that The Limits to Growth was a bunch of hooey; virtually nothing the Club of Rome predicted with such alarm has come to pass. Of course, its members did not then come out with a big press release: “Oh what fools we were! We apologize for worrying the world unnecessarily.” 6 Instead, doomsday predictions proven wrong by the passage of time are quietly forgotten, denying the public the important lesson that one ought to be wary of predictive models because they often reflect, not reality, but the preconceptions of the model’s creators.

Since The Limits to Growth, there have been many doomsday predictions, the one about global warming being only the latest. We have been warned in the most urgent terms against global cooling (yes, cooling); 7 massive loss of species;8 acid rain;9 destruction of forests; 10 overpopulation;11 depletion of petroleum and other natural re-sources; running out of space to store garbage; cancer and other maladies caused by pesticides and toxic wastes; 14 depletion of food resources and drinking water; 15 and a variety of other hazards too numerous to mention. While some of these may well be issues we should worry about in building a better world for ourselves and future generations, they have turned out to be manageable — rather than cataclysmic — problems. Some turned out to be nothing but hype. 16 Others had some substance, but were nowhere near as threatening as the alarmists claimed. 17 The press dutifully reported each of these supposed crises, largely without skepticism. In turn, prominent politicians called for measures preventing environmental disaster as centerplanks of their platforms. No less a figure than Al Gore declared, in his acceptance speech for the Vice Presidential nomination, that “[t]he task of saving the Earth’s environment must and will become the central organizing principle of the post Cold-War world.” 18 The result of this Jedi mind trick was frequent, costly and disruptive changes in our laws that are difficult or impossible to undo. 19

By the time it becomes clear that the problem doesn’t really exist — or is not nearly as serious as portrayed in the alarmist reports — public attention has shifted away from the issue and few people bother to revise their views, if they hear about the recantation at all. Even for those who have grown skeptical over time — or are just skeptical by nature — it’s quite difficult to assess whether a particular environmental scare story is really anything to worry about. After all, they all come swaddled in dire pronouncements from the usual suspects and carry the imprimatur of some scientific-sounding group ready to vouch that this crisis will cause as much damage to Earth as the Death Star did to the planet Alderaan. I have often wondered whether anyone would write a book thoroughly analyzing the great environmental scares of the recent past and explaining how much was legitimate and how much was hype.

Of course, his footnotes are as much fun as the actual prose
* Our readers are far too savvy to need explaining who Judge Kozinski is. He gratefully acknowledges the valuable help of his law clerk, Igor “Skywalker” Timofeyev. — Ed.


2. The Club’s main undertaking — and the subject of the book — was a so-called “Project on the Predicament of Mankind.” Id. at x. Its aim was as humble as its title: “[T]o examine the complex of problems troubling men of all nations: poverty in the midst of plenty; degradation of the environment; loss of faith in institutions; uncontrolled urban spread; insecurity of employment; alienation of youth; rejection of traditional values; and inflation and other monetary and economic disruptions.” Id.

3.Id. at 60.

4.Id. at 64-67 tbl.4; see also id. at 71.

5.Id. at 200.

6. In fact, when the authors published a revised and updated version of the book twenty years later, not only did they fail to acknowledge they had been wrong, but they claimed that the world had already overshot many of its limits to physical growth, and a drastic scaling back was even more urgent than in 1972: “Human use of many essential resources and generations of many kinds of pollutants have already surpassed rates that are physically sustainable. Without significant reductions in material and energy flows, there will be in the coming decades an uncontrolled decline in per capita food output, energy use, and industrial production.” DONELLA H. MEADOWS ET AL., BEYOND THE LIMITS, at xv (1992). Are we living in the same galactic sector, or what?

7. PAUL R. EHRLICH & ANNE H. EHRLICH, THE END OF AFFLUENCE: A BLUEPRINT FOR YOUR FUTURE 28-30 (1974), cited at p. 30. You can bet good money that anything Paul Ehrlich predicts will never happen. See infra text accompanying note 40.

8. Lester Brown, Worldwatch Institute, The Future of Growth, in STATE OF THE WORLD 4 (Linda Stark ed., 1998), cited at p. 13.

9. LONG-TERM EXPERIMENTS WITH ACID RAIN IN NORWEGIAN FOREST ECOSYSTEMS 298 (Gunnar Abrahamsen et al. eds., 1994), cited at p. 37.

10. JANET M. ABRAMOVITZ, WORLDWATCH INSTITUTE, Sustaining the World’s Forests, in STATE OF THE WORLD 1998, supra note 8, at 21, cited at p. 13; Press Release, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, Two-Thirds of The World’s Forests Lost Forever (1997), at, cited at p. 16.

11. PAUL R. EHRLICH, THE POPULATION BOMB (1968), cited at p. 48; see also Paul R. Ehrlich, Looking Back from 2000 A.D., PROGRESSIVE, Apr. 1970, at 23, cited at p. 30.

12. Jim Motavalli, Running on EMPTY, 11 E MAG. 34 (2000), cited at p. 118; see also p. 118 n.848.

13. SENATOR AL GORE, EARTH IN THE BALANCE: ECOLOGY AND THE HUMAN SPIRIT 145 (1992) (“[T]he floodtide of garbage [is] spilling out of our cities and factories”; we are “running out of ways to dispose of our waste in a manner that keeps it out of either sight or mind.”), cited at p. 206.

14. David Pimentel et al., Ecology of Increasing Disease: Population Growth and Environmental Degradation, 48 BIOSCIENCE 817, 818 (1998), cited at p. 23; see also Environmental Pollution and Degradation Causes 40 percent of Deaths Worldwide, CORNELL NEWS, Oct. 12, 1998, available at, cited at p. 23 n.173.

15. EHRLICH & EHRLICH, THE END OF AFFLUENCE, supra note 7, at 28, 30, cited at p. 30.

16. An example of an issue that has absolutely no foundation is the fear that swept the country a decade and a half ago that we were running out of space to dump garbage and would soon be trapped in a global equivalent of the Death Star’s trash compactor. This fear originated in a series of press reports in 1987 about a barge named the Mobro 4000, which wandered thousands of miles trying to unload its cargo of Long Islanders’ trash. Believing this to be a signal that the nation was running out of the landfill space, many concluded that recycling was the only solution. As was soon discovered, the fear was totally unfounded and was, in fact, based on a misunderstanding and poor reporting — driven by the usual environmental zealots. The national obsession with proper garbage disposal and the environmental myths surrounding the recycling program are well described in John Tierney, Recycling Is Garbage, N.Y. TIMES MAG., June 30, 1996, at 24.

17. Acid rain falls into this category. While it damaged lakes, it had no effect on forests, contrary to the claims of many environmentalists that acid rain would turn our planet into desert-like Tatooine. See pp. 37, 179-81.

18. Senator Al Gore, Remarks on Vice-presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention (July 16, 1992), quoted in America Is Ready To Be Inspired and Lifted Again, WASH. POST, July 17, 1992, at A28. Nor was this an excitement-induced isolated utterance on Vice President Gore’s part; it was, rather, a considered element of his political vision. See GORE, supra note 13, at 269 (“[W]e must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization.”).

19. As a result of the Mobro misunderstanding, states and communities across the country have adopted recycling laws that serve no legitimate purpose at all. To the contrary, they impose costs on consumers, not to mention the sheer inconvenience and unpleasantness in having to muck around with garbage. If any of it were at all justified, one might hold one’s nose and put up with it, but the measures turn out to have absolutely no justification; we are quite simply the slaves of a bad idea that no one in public life dares to recognize as a silly waste of time and money. See Tierney, supra note 16.

A far more dangerous idea is the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (“CAFE”) standards, setting ever-tightening requirements for fleet fuel economy for automobile manufacturers. One way to save fuel is by making cars lighter and smaller, which renders their passengers more prone to injuries in accidents. A recent study by the National Research Council has concluded that “the downweighting and downsizing that occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of which was due to CAFE standards, probably resulted in an additional 1,300 to 2,600 traffic fatalities in 1993.” COMMITTEE ON THE EFFECTIVENESS AND IMPACT OF CORPORATE AVERAGE FUEL ECONOMY, EFFECTIVENESS AND IMPACT OF CORPORATE AVERAGE FUEL ECONOMY (CAFE) STANDARDS 3 (2002). Fortunately, SUVs, light trucks and minivans are subject to a more lenient standard (although there are efforts to change that), which explains in great part why consumers have been abandoning automobiles in droves in favor of these larger vehicles. See Paul E. Godek, The Regulation of Fuel Economy and the Demand for “Light Trucks,” 40 J. LAW & ECON. 495, 506 (1997) (“[C]onsumers have responded to [the CAFE standard] by switching from large cars to light trucks, a less-regulated class of vehicles. The switch to light trucks has mitigated — but not eliminated — the adverse safety consequences of CAFE.”). A recent poll conducted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute found that the second most important reason in consumers’ decision to buy an SUV was their greater safety and reliability. CAFE and Safety (Feb. 25, 2002), at Ironically, some of CAFE’s proponents now use the popularity of the SUVs as an argument for higher fuel economy standards, claiming that smaller SUVs would lead to “fewer fatal mismatches in which subcompacts are demolished by invulnerable road monsters.” Sam Kazman, A Crashing Future: The Stupid Tragedy of CAFE, N’R. O, Sept. 17, 2001, at


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