Tuesday, May 08, 2007

After the Hideous Light Bulbs

In my last article, I urged everyone to say no to the hideous looking fluorescent light bulbs the environmentalists plan to force on us in the name of fighting global warming and “saving the planet.” I described the light bulbs as an entering wedge for further demands adding up to the sacrifice of our entire standard of living.

Here’s the kind of demands the environmentalists have in store to follow our acceptance of the light bulbs, if we should be so foolish.

Give Up Clothes Dryers and Power Lawn Mowers

From The International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2007, p. 2:

In most of Europe and North America, when we wash our clothes—and we wash them a lot—people frequently toss the load into an energy-eating tumble dryer.… Largely because of this habit, a T-shirt in its lifetime will require the use of 1,400 grams, or 50 ounces, of fuel, produce 450 grams of waste that goes to landfill and send 4 kilograms, or 9 pounds, of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a recent Cam­bridge University study. If the owner were to wash that T-shirt in warm (40 degrees Celsius, 104 Fahrenheit) rather than hot (60 degrees Celsius) water, and hang it out to dry, the car­bon dioxide emissions created by that shirt would be reduced by 85 to 90 percent.

An average-power lawn mower produces as much emissions in an hour as eight cars going 89 kilometers, or 55 miles, per hour. Use a manual mower.
So get ready to say goodbye to power lawn mowers and to clothes dryers. Be assured that washing machines and countless other things will follow. The article in question itself describes many other sacrifices, including containers for hot cups of coffee and cardboard packaging. The author appears to think she’d get by just as well carrying her coffee everywhere in her own mug. And she lauds Zurich, where “people carry their new televisions home with­out a box: naked appliances, delivered in the most eco-friendly package.”

Give Up Fresh Hot Water and Central Heating

On January 6, 2007, The New York Times published an article titled “The Land of Rising Conservation,” which I previously commented on in this blog. The theme of the article was that Japan is the model country of energy conservation, pointing the way for the United States on the basis of the use of the latest technology. Indeed, the subtitle of the article, in the print edition, was “Japan Offers a Lesson in Using Technology to Lessen Energy Consumption.” Here is what the article had to say on the subjects of fresh hot water and central heating:

Mr. Kimura says he, his wife, and two teenage children all take turns bathing in the same water, a common practice here. Afterward, the still-warm water is sucked through a rubber tube into the nearby washing machine to clean clothes. Wet laundry is hung outside to dry or under a heat lamp in the bathroom.

The different approach is also apparent in the layout of Mr. Kimura’s home, which at 1,188 square feet is about the average size of a house in Japan but only about half as big as the average American one. The rooms are also small, making them easier to heat or cool. The largest is the living room, which is about the size of an American bedroom.

During winter, the entire family, including the miniature dachshund, gathers here, which is often the only room heated. Like most Japanese homes, Mr. Kimura’s does not have central heating. The hallways, stairwell and bathrooms are left cold. The three bedrooms have wall-mounted heaters, which are used only when the rooms are occupied, and switched off at night.

The living room is kept toasty by hot water running through pipes under the floor. Mr. Kimura says such ambient heat saves money. He says the energy bill for his home is about 20,000 yen ($168) a month. Central heating alone would easily double or triple his energy bill, he says.

“Central heating is just too extravagant,” says Mr. Kimura, who is solidly middle class.

The government has tried to foster a culture of conservation with regular campaigns like this winter’s Warm Biz, a call to businesspeople to don sweaters and long johns under their gray suits so that office thermostats could be set lower.

In other words, in addition to bathing in other people’s bathwater and then washing your clothes in it, expect to freeze in winter. And you should also expect to end up in a house the size of those in Japan, or smaller. Whatever you do, be sure to remember that Mr. Kimura is “solidly middle class.” Otherwise you might think that he’s pathetically poor and that you will be too if you have to reduce your energy consumption to his level.

Give Up Toilet Paper, Elevators, and Most of the Rest of the Modern World

On April 23, Cheryl Crow, the well-know singer was quoted in Britain’s
The Register as saying: "I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required."

Ms. Crow has reportedly since claimed that she was merely joking. Be that as it may, her proposal follows logically from ideas that permeate the environmental movement. It follows from the belief in the need to reduce consumption as a means of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which emissions allegedly cause global warming. It also follows from the doctrine of the alleged intrinsic value of nature undisturbed by man. If the trees from which toilet paper is ultimately made are intrinsically valuable and thus must not be disturbed, it follows that man should not have toilet paper.

As a result, it is not surprising that opposition to the use of toilet paper has appeared elsewhere, and in the even more extreme form of a total cessation of its use, and that it has been accompanied by a very wide, almost general rejection of the goods of modern capitalism, including elevators, freezers, television sets, and much, much more. This rejection is the subject of the recent New York Times article
“The Year Without Toilet Paper” (Metropolitan Edition, March 22, 2007, p. F1).

The article is about a well-to-do, well-connected young couple living on lower Fifth Avenue in New York City and currently dedicating their lives to achieving “No Impact” on their environment. To be sure their motivation may at least partly be to promote the husband’s forthcoming book on the subject. But such would not be the motivation of the book’s readers, who presumably will want to learn for themselves how live without making an impact on the environment. And it does not seem to be the major part of their motivation either. For example, the wife is quoted as saying that after she saw Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” she “`felt like everything I did in my life was contributing to a system that was really problematic.… If I was a student, I would march against myself.’”

I must quote at length from the article to show the scope of what this couple has given up in the name of their environmentalist philosophy:

DINNER was the usual affair on Thursday night in Apartment 9F in an elegant prewar on Lower Fifth Avenue.… A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there.… Meanwhile, Joseph, the liveried elevator man who works nights in the building, drove his wood-paneled, 1920s-era vehicle up and down its chute, unconcerned that the couple in 9F had not used his services in four months.

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style.… Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.…

Since November, Mr. Beavan and [his two-year old daughter] Isabella have been hewing closely, most particularly in a dietary way, to a 19th-century life.… right now that means
lots of apples and root vegetables, stored in the unplugged freezer…Olive oil and vinegar are out; they used the last dregs of their bottle of balsamic vinegar last week.… The television, a flat-screen, high-definition 46-incher, is long gone…. The dishwasher is off, along with the microwave, the coffee machine and the food processor. Planes, trains, automobiles and that elevator are out, but the family is still doing laundry in the washing machines in the basement of the building. (Consider the ramifications of no-elevator living in a vertical city: one day recently, when Frankie the dog had digestive problems, Mr. Beavan, who takes Isabella to day care—six flights of stairs in a building six blocks away—and writes at the Writers Room on Astor Place—12 flights of stairs, also six blocks away—estimated that by nightfall he had climbed 115 flights of stairs.) And they have not had the heart to take away the vacuum from their cleaning lady, who comes weekly (this week they took away her paper towels).…

Toothpaste is baking soda.… (Nothing is a substitute for toilet paper, by the way; think of bowls of water and lots of air drying.)

This is the kind of life implied by environmentalism and its demands for limits on carbon dioxide emissions. If total, global emissions are fixed, while population increases, per capita emissions must necessarily decline, and along with them the energy production that gives rise to them and the products whose production and use depend on that energy production. If, in addition, emissions in today’s third-world countries increase, those in first world countries must decrease, with the result of a further per capita decline in the first world countries. Add to that the effect of progressive reductions in the volume of global emissions until they are merely a fraction of what they were in the year 2000 or 1990, which is what the environmentalists want to achieve, and there can be no other outcome but the most radical decline in the standard of living of the first world countries. Thus, if the environmentalists have their way, one can expect to personally experience the kind of deprivations described in the various news stories presented above.

Such a life of impoverishment is a life that the environmentalists who are striving to bring it about certainly deserve to achieve—but just for themselves, not for anyone else.


This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site
www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

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