29 March 2008


John Tierney, who is generally far from the worst of the New York Times columnists and has in the past exposed environmentalists’ fraud, wrote a column a few days ago called, “Are We Ready to Track Carbon Footprints?” In the article, he concedes all ground to the “global warming” crowd and the advocates of a “carbon tax,” and takes as a starting point the fact that we need to “make sacrifices for the common good and perform acts of charity that we’d never do for any amount of pay.”  

It’s true that Tierney weakly makes the point that this sacrifice would be voluntary, not forced, but that makes it worse. It avoids confronting sacrifice as evil, and makes him seem practical in a folksy sort of way, not like a crackpot who is trying to abolish automobiles and toilet paper. While reading the article, you get the sense that Mr. Tierney has his arm around you - not about your throat, but around your shoulders, as he gently guides you around the room. Indeed, the purpose of his article seems to be to introduce the idea of “nudging” us foolish humans into doing the right thing, so that compulsion won’t become necessary. (LB has a post on this “nudging” fad here.)  

This got me thinking about the concept of “footprints.”  

We hear a lot about these so-called “carbon footprints,” if for no other reason than it is repeated ad nauseum by the usual media channels, and is digested quite readily and uncritically by the guilt-ridden masses. It’s probably being taught in some form in most kindergartens and elementary schools. Businessmen fall all over each other for the privilege of sliding the “carbon footprint” noose over their own necks. For instance, BP (British Petroleum) has a “carbon footprint” calculator on its web site. Appallingly, not only have many businessmen not outright rejected the notion of "carbon taxes," but have created a new "market" of "carbon offset" indulgences.  

The disgusting idea behind the “carbon footprint” is that human beings, by the very act of living – in particular, living in a civilized manner that requires the extraction of energy from nature – are necessarily trampling upon the pristine Good Earth. The concept is designed to characterize human living as treading, defacing, discommoding. To breathe is to impose. Mere exhalation warrants an apology. And to live above the level of a savage – to light a room with an electric bulb, to drive to work in a car, to fly in an airplane, to cool oneself with air conditioning, to keep one’s cup of coffee warm with an electric heater – is a supreme sin that must be expiated with suitable penance.  

I don’t wish to contribute to the spread of this foul idea by belaboring it, and I am reluctant to even adopt its vocabulary, but it occurred to me that there may actually be a “footprint” measurement that is meaningful. Of course, the idea of a “carbon footprint” is not merely nonsense but is actually evil. It subjugates the requirements of human beings to the alleged needs of an inanimate object, our planet.  

But might there not be a “footprint” that is worth considering? The earth does not care if it is treaded upon, but human beings do indeed care. Manipulating matter for our benefit is necessary for our survival and our pursuit of happiness. Shaping, squashing, pulling, pushing - in short, exploiting - nature is good. But shaping, squashing, pulling, pushing human beings is bad. So, if we are going to talk about footprints at all, perhaps we could talk about a destructive “footprint” that refers to ideas that trample upon human life. I don’t know what to call it - maybe a “malicious footprint” or an “death footprint.” But it would mean this: a measurement of eventual harm caused by an idea or the spread of an idea.  

Let me illustrate with a few examples.  

The environmentalists - the inventors of the “carbon footprint” - themselves have a “malicious footprint” that is off the charts as they struggle (with increasing success) to convince the world that it ought to return to the Stone Age. I doubt that Rachel Carson was particularly malicious personally, but it is dizzying to think of the millions of malaria-infected Africans that have been squashed by the “footprint” of Silent Spring.  

Or consider the “footprints” of the three presidential candidates today, who are each in their own way peddling socialism and sacrifice to a nodding public. Think of the “footprints” of the intellectuals in the universities. Of Kant. Hegel. Marx. To breathe carbon dioxide into the air harms no one; to breathe the Communist Manifesto in a Petrograd parlor contributed to about 100 million deaths in the 20th century.

Or think of the "footprint" of one Jewish carpenter and the men that left their own "footprints" in his wake, from Paul to Augustine to Torquemada.

Now, don’t misunderstand the purpose of my defining this “malicious footprint.” For starters, I introduced it simply to combat the terrible notion of a “carbon footprint” and I’m partially inclined to not even stoop to that level. But above all, it should not be construed as a call to silence anybody. Ideas are not crimes; only actions can be. In no way should force be used to stifle ideas, not even very bad ones.  

On a final and optimistic note, let me point out that this idea of a “footprint” applies in a positive direction as well, though in that case I would hesitate to call it a “footprint” at all because of the connotations I mentioned above. (A “caress” would be more to the point, though that has its own connotations. Perhaps a “beneficial footprint” captures the idea.) This would be a measurement of the sheer good caused by an individual’s ideas. I would be interested to see such a “footprint” calculator applied to Aristotle, Newton, Locke, Jefferson, Adams, and Rand.

1 comment:

LB said...

I really love this idea of a positive footprint. Would that be like lifts? Stilts? Standing on the shoulders of giants?

When you have an extra 3-4 weeks, okay, maybe months of time, I think you should research it, come up with an algorithm, then develop a widget that we can all put on our blogs.

Of course, you might be able to come up with a catchy name for the idea more quickly.