McGowan: One-Way Environmentalists

July 21, 2023

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

My friend, a professor of architecture and design, was a member of his small, Ohio town’s planning council. The council tackled the problem of energy loss by the town’s drafty domiciles, especially trailers. The committee wondered what to do about it. “We should tear them down and replace them with more energy efficient structures,” one person said. “We are losing too much energy in those places.”

My friend said, “Look at how many people are living in those structures. The trailers have just a bit more than one-thousand square living feet and, often, five people are living in one of them. That’s less than three hundred square feet per person. That’s an efficient use of space and energy.”

On the other hand, there are very public leaders of the environmental movement. One captain of the ESG movement has two houses totaling over 12,000 square living feet. Hollywood’s outspoken and strong environmentalists include Jane Fonda, who has a 6,700 square foot house in Hollywood and a 9500 square foot house on 23,000 acres in New Mexico. The Hollywood list of strong environmentalists also includes Leonardo DiCaprio, who has a house in LA, one in NYC, and an island near Belize. The lot of them appear wasteful or gluttonous regarding resources, especially energy. At least the last two do not make policy for others though they do influence culture.

Politicians are different; they do make policy for people to follow. An environmentalist in the Biden administration, which advocates strong environmental policies down to the level of discontinuing gas stoves, has two houses. One house has six bedrooms and five and a half baths in a 4,780 square living foot house. The second house, the one used for daily living when he’s not working in the White House, has 6,85 square living feet, three bedrooms and four and a half baths. That government official is inordinate in his use of resources, especially energy, compared with the five people in a trailer.

Yet, the one in the Biden administration pursues environmental policy that would require the folks in the trailers to change their living arrangements. Banning gas stoves and requiring non-washing dishwashers for the sake of the environment would not rearrange that politician’s lifestyle, a lifestyle wildly inconsistent with the administration’s professed views. The lifestyles of all the folks above also demonstrate that whatever policies are enacted, the environment will not improve much unless and until leaders realize that policy does not always solve problems associated with the environment: pollution and resource depletion.

Certainly the policy on carbon credits will not solve the problem of pollution. The air does not get cleaner with an organization’s or person’s buying carbon credits, “entitlements” to pollute. Pollution will continue to exist but some entity need only pay more to pollute. Resource depletion, especially for lithium, will not go away when all the batteries from EVs need to be replaced. Windmills, in addition to killing birds, present another environmental problem: where do broken windmill blades go?

Maybe policy should follow John Locke’s counsel. He wrote that people were allowed property “at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others.” Regarding property, Locke wrote that a person “does a foolish thing as well as dishonest to hoard up more than he could make use of.” Were environmental policy to follow Locke’s advice, consumption and pollution would ease through responsible use of property — a boon to environmental improvement. No whopping big houses for anyone, let alone two of them.

However, policy that would prohibit the excessive use of resources, especially energy, would likely limit property — not that political leaders, ESG ‘financial’ advisors, outspoken Hollywood celebrities, and D.C. politicians would approve. They appear perfectly content with their extravagant use of energy and resources while making policy decisions at a micro level. They probably think, “Let the “deplorables” suffer. We don’t have to rearrange our lifestyle. We are obliged to make policy, not follow it.” Can a dacha in the lake district be far behind?

Policy that intrudes on people’s lives at the level of a kitchen appliance ought to be followed by everybody. Better still, just get rid of such policies.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University.


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