Congresswoman: Jesus = Apathetic Neglect

August 12, 2008

When it comes to environmental issues, I’m far from a PETA-pal or global warming groupie. I think massive factory meat production is bad, but I don’t think a few random people being a vegetarian helps stop it. And I think global warming is both a real and man-made effect, but I’m skeptical that we can seriously reduce our emissions enough to make a significant difference (developing directly counteractive climate-change technologies are likely the best hope for a solution, IMHO).

But I see all that as a form of practical realism, not an outright denial that human activity is destroying parts of the planet we should both care about (like the coral reefs) and which will ultimate come back to affect us negatively.

Realism, however, is not quite the strong-suit of many on the religious right. Case in point, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who had this to say about Democratic efforts to improve emission standards and other anti-pollution crusades:

“[Pelosi] is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she’s just trying to save the planet,” Bachmann told the right-wing news site OneNewsNow. “We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet — we didn’t need Nancy Pelosi to do that.”(emphasis added)

Yes, that’s right folks: no need to preserve things like coral reefs, coastlines, or cropland in Africa. No need to speak of doing good works in the world, or even not screwing over our fellow man by dumping poison into his atmosphere.

No no: all that matters in life is whether or not a bizarre, largely unintelligible ideology is true or not, thus “saving” us from the hypothetical insane rage of the very being peddling salvation from its own bizarre universe.

Sometimes you’ve just got to drop your jaw in awe that anyone could come up with this stuff, let alone believe it strongly enough to be so self-righteously smug about it.

Penn & Teller BullS***!: Learn What a Labyrinth Is Jillette!

July 31, 2008

As a skeptic, it’s hard not to like Penn & Teller’s Showtime show BullS***! But it’s also hard to avoid the fact that the show often skimps on the skepticism and science in favor of some seriously self-righteous ranting. The result is a product that’s hit-or-miss when it comes to factual matters and honest debate, but nearly always dead on when it comes to satire.

Their recent episode “Being Green,” in which they poke fun at some truly loopy enviro-hype, is a perfect example. There’s plenty of utterly ridiculous “carbon consciousness” cults and other such fluff out there, all well deserving of a critical eye and a derisive snort. But as is often the case, Penn mixes his bombastic, disdainful style with sloppy science and sometimes even just plain ignorance. He starts the episode, for instance, with the grossly misleading trope about how scientists were predicting an ice age only 30 years ago.

But it’s not the big controversial issues that best illustrate this problem: it’s the sometimes little things that he gets wrong that turn into blowhardery.

As far as I’m concerned, his real crime comes during his otherwise side-splitting coverage of an alt-med therapist who claims to treat the “eco-anxiety” experienced by some truly hapless goofs. After handing her patients “river rocks” and asking them to explain their feelings about their mother, Earth, she takes them on a spiritualized walk through a labyrinth with Jillette’s narration mocking her every step of the way.

But in the midst of it Jillette says something that’s just unforgiveable: (paraphrasing) “That’s not a labyrinth! A labyrinth has choices! This is just a boring walk to nowhere!”

Uh… no, technically it doesn’t. Didn’t the Muppets teach you anything, Mr. Jillette?

The Environment: Population Growth is the Solution, not the Problem!

November 23, 2007

This woman seems to believe that she’s helping to save the planet by not having any kids. Her math is pretty simple: a few more human beings means less resources, more burden on the environment, and so on. She likes the environment the way it is it seems, and fair enough.

But I think she’s got it totally backwards. Economist Julian Simon had it right, I think: the lesson of human progress is that more people means more minds to solve problems, and we can ultimately solve problems faster than we make them. What matters is not the number of people, but whether they have the education and the political and economic liberty to act and adapt. That doesn’t mean we can’t improve and preserve the natural environment if that’s what we value. It’s just that the only plausible way we’ll be able to do so is via political and technological solutions.

Less kids doesn’t do anything to bring those solutions about, and it just as well might mean less scientists, thinkers, and workers willing to innovate those solutions and then bring them into being. Worse, if she presumably would have raised her kids to care about the environment, it will also just mean a lower percentage of people on the planet that share that value!

Less total people does not necessarily mean more resources consumed in any case. If the supply of human beings is lower, then this means the price of the world’s resources overall will be less (since the supply is the same, but demand has reduced): everyone left could and probably would just ultimately consume more. Less people just means bigger shares of the earth for everyone else, not less consumption period.

So this woman’s decision to sterilize herself is probably pointless, at least insofar as reaching her goal of a cleaner earth. Luckily, someone has already thought of a solution to such poor judgment: tubal ligations can now be surgically reversed!