The decline and fall of cap and trade

Robert Tracinski:

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It seems that the first time Americans begin to experience anything like the economic consequences of global warming regulations -- $4-per-gallon gasoline is just a down payment on the green agenda -- they begin to have second thoughts about whether they really want to reduce their carbon footprints.

Can it really be that easy to defeat cap-and-trade-just to point out, "Hey, this will raise the price of gasoline"? Why does this argument work?

Invoking high gasoline prices works, not just because of the immediate pain it inflicts on politicians' constituents, but because it exploits a fundamental contradiction at the foundation of the current "green" fad.

The contradiction behind the green lifestyle fad is the idea that we can reject industrial civilization -- and the fuel that powers it -- while still enjoying a modern, prosperous, "First World" standard of living.

The more shallow followers of the green fad get around this contradiction through "greenwashing": finding a superficial "green" angle to rationalize buying expensive goods and living pretty much the same opulent lifestyle they enjoyed before. My favorite example is a magazine article on "green" houses that advocated buying more expensive, nicer-looking "architectural grade" asphalt roof shingles, because they won't have to be replaced as often and will therefore -- if you can follow this chain of reasoning -- use less resources over the long run. Maybe so, maybe not. But it gives well-off, upper-middle-class types an excuse not to feel guilty about telling the roofer to go with the upgrade.

Among more serious devotees, the green contradiction takes the form of endless, arbitrary debates about which lifestyle choices are really more-green-than-thou. They debate over whether to ask for paper or plastic bags at the grocery store, or whether to buy milk in glass jugs or cardboard cartons, and a whole host of other eco-theological conundrums that turn out to be more convoluted and harder to resolve than the debate over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

What both groups are trying to evade is that truly consistent environmentalism demands the sacrifice of all prosperity. The only genuine way to slash your "carbon footprint" is to stop consuming goods. The "lifestyle" it really demands is not about hemp bracelets, bamboo textile skirts, and reusable burlap grocery sacks-the entire Whole Foods scene. It's really about abject, Third World poverty.

That's why rising gas prices have hit the environmentalist movement so hard.

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It is dawning on people that the anti energy left is just getting started with $4 gas and they want it even higher. Drilling for conservation can only take you so far. There is no magic way to avoid the need for energy.

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