WASHINGTON -- Every era produces at least one fad that future generations come to regard as sweetly idiotic. Ours has created environmentalism for this purpose.
Although this pagan religion retains considerable cachet among America's illuminati, it has become a bore for the rest of us.
Earth Day came and went this year, unfeted and unobserved, because we're fed up. After years of Chicken Little hysteria and annoying regulations, we've sent Gaia worshipers to the pillories to languish with such peers as tax collectors, child molesters and tobacconists.
America's Greens earned this obloquy by trying to prevent us from eating what we wanted, doing what we enjoyed and living as we chose. They sneered at what we held dear and, in the name of public safety and health, threatened jail or fines if we didn't do as we were told.
A Venusian hothouse
Today's environmentalist harbors an infantile fear of the grown-up world. He believes that technology moves remorselessly forward, hastening our destruction; that mankind is hurtling blindly toward extinction, driven by brainless material appetites; that carbon dioxide is piling up beneath the stratosphere, converting our verdant planet into a Venusian hothouse.
Vice President Al Gore, high priest of the movement, captures the cult's saturnine ways when he warns that the internal combustion engine is an unparalleled menace, "more deadly than . . . any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront."
The solution: drastic federal intervention. Shut down the factories! Garage the cars! Set up car-pool lanes for bicycles so our streets may look like Beijing's!
These days, Mr. Gore stands Joshua-like at the gate, commanding us to honor the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that would require the United States to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions so that we spit out 7 percent less of the gas in 2012 than we did in 1990.
His commandment is based on the premise that global warming will get us. In truth, climatologists say it will be a decade before we have the technical means to know whether global warming is even taking place.
He produces similarly mysterious predictions of future prosperity. Janet Yellen, chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, recently told Congress that the treaty would have minimal impact on U.S. workers, households and businesses. When Rep. John Dingell asked her to produce the analysis that enabled her to draw this conclusion, she replied that her words were the analysis.
The environmental gospel has lost its sheen because of such nonsense. Today, our air is cleaner than it has been since World War I, and our water hasn't been as pure since horse-and-buggy jTC days. We have more timber than a century ago and more virgin forest. We add nearly 100,000 acres of wetlands annually.
Yet, the most important dispute over Kyoto doesn't concern numbers; it concerns the soul of American civilization. The environmentalist looks at the human spirit as a wildfire in sore need of control. He regards every innovation with trepidation and demands the right to ban it before people can develop a taste for it.
This turns the traditional American ethos on its head. Not so long ago, we venerated captains of industry, who got rich by giving people what they wanted and needed. Environmentalists these days exalt the politician, who gets powerful by seizing our money and telling us what we should want.
Computer scientist and essayist David Gelernter has written brilliantly of this clash between cultures -- one, a society imbued with the ideals of progress, and the other, a society hooked on control. Kyoto brings the war to a head.
The treaty will make us decide whether to place our faith in ourselves or in the Gore Brigades, whether to take pride in our growing ability to meld innovation, progress and ecological protection -- or to look upon every sun-drenched Sunday as a harbinger of annihilation.
The fight, long overdue, ought to be fun. And if Earth Day was any indication, the good guys will win.
Tony Snow is a syndicated columnist.
Pub Date: 5/05/98