There are two types of Americans. The most common pays close attention to the news… the opinion… the sports scores… the politics. The other type has no idea what is going on in public life. The latter is far better off.
The well-informed American turns to his regular sources of misinformation this morning and discovers two very important things:
One of the brightest stars in the firmament of humanity has gone into the dark…at least for 23 days. But don’t worry about that; the whole human race may be extinguished, too. Yes, everyone’s favorite socialite and heiress has landed herself in the hoosegow in Los Angeles.
And, then, the whole world is going to Hell…
As the former, we are shocked and alarmed. What kind of police state is America turning into? If you can’t drink and drive anymore…what can you do? Soon, you won’t even be able to blow smoke into your boss’s face, pinch the secretary…or take a handgun on an airplane.
Free Paris, we say. Free America!
The newspaper consumer also discovers that the whole earth is in danger. Yes, that’s right. Humans are now an endangered species. We have to fight to save the planet. From what? From rising temperatures.
Why rising temperatures are a threat to this old ball has never been fully clarified. You’d think that about as many people would prefer a little extra warmth as would loathe it. But no matter, global warming is said to cause all sorts of calamities.
“You know, there are only 12,000 penguins left,” my son Henry announced yesterday, after reading a report in the French press.
“Twelve thousand seems like more than enough,” we replied. “I mean…how many penguins do you need?”
“Dad, the penguins are endangered by global warming,” Henry persisted. “If we don’t do something to stop it, they might all disappear.”
“Wonder why they didn’t disappear the last time the earth heated up,” was our comeback.
But a lot of people take global warming seriously, especially in Europe. And if you read the newspapers, even you are likely to begin worrying about it. The International Herald Tribune has a special section on the Greening of the Planet that has been running for a few days. This week’s Economist’s cover announces “Cleaning Up”, leading to a report on how business is tackling climate change. Even our own MoneyWeek magazine, in London, offers a cover story – perhaps a little more skeptically, if not more cynically – on how investors can profit from the world’s headlong rush to green.
Meanwhile, on the chilly banks of the North Sea in Heilgendamm, Germany, the heads of the world’s most powerful countries will meet this week. The number one item on the agenda – yes, keeping the world from going to Hell.
We are indebted this morning to Ban Ki Moon, who in case you have not been following the spectacle closely enough, is both the current secretary general of the United Nations and a man upon whom gravity seems to have no effect. Even with the weight of his office under his soft derriere, Mr. Moon threatens to spin out of orbit. Writing in the IHT, the U.N. man asserts, “The science is clear. The earth’s warming is unequivocal; we humans are its principle cause.”
How Mr. Moon knows these things with such certainty is not revealed. But he goes on…
“The time for action is now. The cost of not acting, most economists agree, will exceed the costs of acting early, probably by several orders of magnitude. The damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans may or may not have anything to do with global warming, but it’s a useful caution nonetheless on the financial and social perils of delay.”
Meanwhile, Germany’s Chancellor, Ms. Merkel, wants the Group of 8 to agree not to allow the world’s temperature to rise more than 2 degrees centigrade. We know that our governments can control the rate of inflation – with wide variations and occasional blow-ups. But this is the first time we’ve heard that they can control the temperature of the planet! Details to follow…we suppose.
But leave it to our favorite columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, to come up with the most asinine comment of all: “…it is inevitable that manufacturing clean, green power systems, appliances, homes and cars will be the next great global industry. It has to be, or we will not survive as a species.”
We stop there for a moment. Like a prizefighter staggered by a blow to the head, after a wallop of absurdity like that it takes a minute to recover our senses.
We’ve always admired Mr. Friedman’s ability to look into the future and then come up with ways to improve it even before it happens. The columnist then gives his list of policies designed to save us from extinction – such as having the U.S. government buy more solar and wind power, “with only US-based manufacturers able to compete for contracts.” You’d think that with the survival of the whole human race at stake, the man might permit, say, the new super-sized U.S. embassy in Baghdad to buy a little juice from a local entrepreneur…but that’s Friedman; no idea he comes up with is so idiotic that he can’t make it worse by getting into the details.
In spite of all this hot air, however, we admit that on many occasions, there may be a real problem. If we light a fire we get the benefit of the warmth; but the smoke goes up the chimney. And if enough smoke goes up the chimney, bad things could happen to other people. They could choke, cough and curse the man who lit the blaze. The honest thing to do would be to fess up and pay for the damage we’ve caused – if any.
The trouble with global warming is that we’re not sure that there really is any damage; and if there is, we’re not sure if it is possible to stop it…or even worth stopping. People light fires to warm their hands; if they are prevented from lighting a fire…the loss would be immediate (the poor man’s hands would be cold). The gain, on the other hand, may be illusory.
So many questions. So few answers. Global warming may be 90% huff and humbug, but you can be sure of one thing: there’s so much money and power at stake, people will spend a lot of time trying to get some of it.
Markets and Money