finem respice

Green Slime

Submitted by ep on Tue, 11/29/2011 - 05:13
burn baby, burn

Typically astute long-time readers of finem respice will by now have noticed the addition of the "anti-green" logo (repurposed from Dale Amon via samizdata.net) to finem respice's long-static sidebar. Of course, the adoption by finem respice of an overt, as opposed to incidental, opposition to the "green movement"1 is a departure from the general philosophical bent exhibited here over the years.2 Certainly, finem respice has clashed with the periphery of the "green movement," or at least its secondary effects, on occasion, but for the most part critiques in these pages have been focused on narrow slices of these issues (e.g. price discovery, period mismatches, short-term political gains at the expense of long-term social losses). Some deeper lunges into the thoracic cavity of "climate science" may have nicked a green artery or two along the way, but only in the way of collateral damage. Unfortunately, the time of Franco-Spain style neutrality has come to an end.3

Three observations of recent vintage prompt finem respice's declaration:

  1. The off-hand comment by a friend of finem respice to the effect that prefixing any noun with the word "environmental" or "green" almost universally degrades the resulting hybrid subject. To wit:
    • Lightbulb : Green Lightbulb
    • Automobile : Green Automobile
    • Energy : Green Energy
    • Jobs : Green Jobs
    • Loans : Green Loans
    • Party : Green Party
    • Cleaner : Green Cleaner
    • Detergent : Green Detergent
    • Living : Green Living
    • Envy : Green with Envy
    • Mountain Coffee : Green Mountain Coffee
    • Peace : Greenpeace
    • Day : Green Day
    • Span : Greenspan
    • Regulation : Environmental Regulation
    • Liability : Environmental Liability
    • Hazard : Environmental Hazard
    • Policy : Environmental Policy
    • Law : Environmental Law
    • Clean-up : Environmental Clean-up
    • Working Group : Environmental Working Group
    • Study : Environmental Study
    • Studies : Environmental Studies
    • Protection Agency : Environmental Protection Agency
    • Journal : Environmental Journal
    • Science : Environmental Science
    • Journalism : Bloomberg
    • Journalist : Alex Morales

    Certainly, the collective creativity of finem respice's readers can elucidate hundreds of incremental examples.

  2. The manner in which the increasingly nebulous concept of "green" has, quite literally, rootkitted representative politics and western society in general. Thus:
  3. $ kill -9 drillproject
    kill: can't kill drillproject
    $ sudo kill -9 drillproject
    Password: environmental
    Killed
    $

  4. The flagrant and nearly shameless display of a level of logical incongruence and economic illiteracy that, were it not shielded from critique by the point above, would immediately disqualify the actor in question not only from election to high (or even middling) office, but also mandate a blanket finding that they are incompetent to stand trial before any court this side of North Korea.

Are we really to believe, for instance, that the negative externalities associated with gas-generated power versus solar sources amount to almost eleven times the market clearing price for electricity in the United Kingdom?4 Or eight times the market clearing price in Germany? (Just slightly less insane than the fifteen multiple that was in place until some years ago).

Does anyone, anyone at all, still believe that Compact Fluorescent Lamp bulbs provide even a fraction of the performance of incandescents? And has anyone, anyone at all found their lifespans to be any significant multiple of their incandescent counterparts? (Glenn Reynolds, we are looking in your direction.)

It is, in fact, trivial to compile a list of highly inferior products that would never succeed in the marketplace without the diktat of government to cheat them into adoption. In less than a generation consumers have suddenly been saddled with low-flow shower-heads, "efficient" toilets, phosphorous-free "detergents," cold-water laundry soap even the Germans cannot be convinced to like, OLED displays, energy saving driers, water conserving washing machines, natural deodorant, acetone-free nail polish remover, suctionless vacuum cleaners,5 gag-inducing asthma inhalers,6 and poison-free pesticides. And if ever this pack of smelly, eye-strained, perspiring, make-up caked, wheezing, malaria-ridden, pissed-off consumers were ever to attempt to worm their way into their damp and dingy clothes and head on over to Capitol Hill to ask their elected representative how exactly they are saving 33% of their normal water consumption by spending twice as long in the shower and flushing the toilet six times in the morning, well they would have to stop to fill up two extra times on their way owing to the fact that their ethanol-poisoned gasoline (which is only viable to the extent it enjoys a nearly 50% subsidy) burns less efficiently and actually increases emissions besides.

It will shock finem respice readers not at all to read that a particular focus of these pages relates to the mournful observation that there really are no free lunches. Creating products with less impact means using products with- wait for it- less impact. Somewhere there is a trade off. Always. Of course, in the mad dash to disguise this reality language is among the first of the causalities. Where and when, exactly, did "efficiency" come to mean "more expensive and less able to perform the tasks expected of it?"

Actually, it was New Orleans in 1952.

The Oxford English Dictionary quips:

efficiency:
[ad. L. efficientia; see efficience and -ency.]

1. a. The fact of being an operative agent or efficient cause. Now only in philosophical use.

b The action of an operative agent or efficient cause; production, causation, creation. Obs.

2.a Fitness or power to accomplish, or success in accomplishing, the purpose intended; adequate power, effectiveness, efficacy.

3. Mech. and Physics. a. The work done by a force in operating a machine or engine; the total energy expended by a machine. Obs.

b. The ratio of useful work performed to the total energy expended or heat taken in. (radiant efficiency or luminous efficiency, the ratio of the total luminous flux produced to the total power consumed).7

But alas, some enterprising soul advertising a closet as an apartment in the New Orleans Times-Picayune completely perverted a once noble and proud word with the now ubiquitous, syphilitic taint of marketing. To wit:

Modern, furnished efficiency. Living room, bedroom combined, kitchen and bath.8

Which, of course, prompted the additional OED entry:

4. An efficiency apartment; a room with limited facilities for washing and cooking. N. Amer.9

And so began a long, downward spiral.

Once you start down the path of words not meaning what words mean (except in certain cases all of which you are expected to immediately recognize simply by instinct), you are doomed. To wit:

In 2007 TerraChoice surveyed over 1,000 products to evaluate their "green" claims. Only one was judged to meet its self-touted boasts.10

One.11

Of course, one can argue in turn that TerraChoice, an "environmental marketing agency," has a vested interest in finding fault with such claims to bolster their environmental consulting practice, but this only exposes how impossibly vague "green" standards are, not to mention the literally shameless state of affairs that permits TerraChoice to describe itself, apparently without even a hint of irony, as a:

A science-based marketing firm, we help clients convert genuine environmental leadership into winning strategy, communications and positioning....12 (emphasis added)

And there it is. That wet, slapping sound that only a particular kind of incestuous, slimy intercourse can emit: The rank coitus that results when advocacy carnally mounts science from behind. And not only can everyone hear it when they get close enough, but everyone who hears it knows exactly what is going on behind the bathroom door from which it issues. But, and here comes the rootkit, on hearing it (almost) everyone freezes in their tracks, hand motionless in mid-reach for the door handle before turning around deftly, tip-toeing away and hoping determinedly that there is another guest bathroom elsewhere in the Siamese cat infested, dimly-lit, carbon-offset Soho loft they somehow got roped into visiting for "free trade cocktails." Opening that bathroom door, you see, would only have the effect of releasing a gushing cascade of projection, character assassination and executive privilege, salted with a blood-pressure spiking dose of accusations ranging from racism to greed, and, even worse, big-pharma and big-oil connections.

True, anyone could plainly see that advocacy was in flagrante delicto with science (even while science was, at least back then, engaged to empirical-and-measurable-evidence). Now that you mention it, that did look like a particularly high-risk type of (ahem) coupling, and, well, no, advocacy didn't really appear to be using protection. Well, sure, member-of-congress was also there, filming the proceedings from the corner with a cellphone cam while impatiently muttering "C'mon, c'mon already, I've a carbon treaty conference to get to in the South of France and the Air Force C-32 isn't going to wait forever." Yes, those might actually have been a pile of advocacy's stock certificates from the recent IPO in member-of-congress' purse. You know, I'm not sure you can actually prove that those crisp $100 bills on the bedside table were for science. No, you can't fingerprint them. And by the way, since you are a racist, sexist, phlogiston-touting neanderthal shill for Dick Chaney and prone to pass your weekends hunting baby harp seals with a hooked club made from rainforest wood, and since your wife has a blood diamond on her finger (I have the certification report and the FinCEN investigation abstract right here), we are putting you on the Soho loft blacklist.

No institution, no matter how storied, appears immune. Consider the fact that the Ottawa-based TerraChoice, which also managed Canada's EgoLogo branding program, was acquired by Underwriters Laboratories ("Working for a safer world since 1894") in 2010.

Yes. Underwriters Laboratories.

Somewhere along the line, probably around 2009 when Underwriters Laboratories created their "UL Environment" entity, the century-long focus by UL on safety morphed into a mission:

Supporting the production and use of products which are physically and environmentally safe and to apply our efforts to prevent or reduce loss of life and property.13 (emphasis added)

Apparently the property loss of millions of not-yet-neutered shower heads was an unfortunate, but necessary, wound inflicted on the integrity of the otherwise pristine Underwriters Laboratories raison d'├ętat.

Even a cursory treatment of the cornucopia of examples that plague this field (EPA EnergyStar ratings handed out to anyone who asks without any verification, collapsing carbon trading schemes, "sustainable energy" that can't produce efficiency even with subsidies in excess of 3.00x the market clearing price) would occupy a set of pages that would make to median word-count of even finem respice's articles look slight. And, by the very act of pointing out only a few, finem respice's inbox is likely to endure serious scaldings in the days to come. So be it, because really, someone has to throw down the gauntlet:

Enough is enough.

  1. 1. The defining properties of which are explored further infra.
  2. 2. Cf. Private, Equity, Malignant Solar Cells, finem respice (October 23, 2011).
  3. 3. Identifying the parties in this analogy who represent the Axis and the Allies respectively is left as an exercise for the listless finem respice reader.
  4. 4. See: Private, Equity, Malignant Solar Cells, finem respice (October 23, 2011).
  5. 5. Forthcoming from the EU. One cannot resist the urge to quote one commenter's "This could be the first EU idea that doesn't suck."
  6. 6. Oh, the irony.
  7. 7. The Oxford English Diction, 2d., Oxford University Press (1989).
  8. 8. Times-Picayune Classifieds (May 11, 1952).
  9. 9. Ibid.
  10. 10. See Generally: http://www.terrachoice.com/.
  11. 11. "Cascade" paper towels were apparently not fibbing when they claimed to be chlorine-free and mostly composed of recycled content. They also failed to be flagrantly misusing certification logos- an offense that was apparently shockingly (at least to small children) widespread among other products.
  12. 12. TerraChoice Website (November 28, 2011).
  13. 13. Underwriters Laboratories Website (November 28, 2001)
[Art Credit: Unknown "Untilted," Photograph (Unknown), Unknown. Too bad it's only one.]

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