The Usefulness of Hypocrisy

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue," said the witty La Rouchefoucauld, back in 1665.

In California in 2005, the governor — a former movie star who more than any other individual popularized the Humvee, an extreme emitter of the prime heat-trapping gas, CO2 — now declares his opposition to global warming.

Because another influential member of the governor’s party likes to pretend that the global climate isn’t changing, for a prominent fellow Republican to state the obvious is considered daring. But that says more about the pathetic state of discourse on the issue of climate change in this country than it does about Schwarzenegger. The fact that Schwarzenegger has no apparent interest in reducing his own energy consumption is immaterial; all he need do is call for others to cut where he will not, and he becomes an environmental hero.

"I say the debate is over. We know the science, we see the threat, and the time for action is now."

That’s what he told a United Nations conference on the subject in San Francisco yesterday.

Nonetheless, as annoying as it is to have to give a prime contributor to global warming political credit for opposing it, the fact remains that California and Californians could make a major difference. As the story in the LA Times referenced above indicates, if we in California succeed in reducing its levels of heat-trapping gasses to year 2000 levels by 2010, an 11% reduction, and to 1990 levels by 2020, a 25% reduction, "it would cut more greenhouse gases than Japan, France, or the United Kingdom."

What’s more, Californians have already proven their ability to cut energy consumption. In 2001 — despite Vice-President Cheney’s scoffing at the time that conservation was of little practical use — we succeeded in reducing electrical energy consumption by between five and ten percent almost literally overnight, according to page forty-three of a 2002 report by the California Energy Commission.

(It’s difficult to exactly quantify electrical power consumption trends, because weather changes from year to year, and it’s necessary to calculate not just a reduction from the year before — about 5.4% from the year 2000 — but also an estimate of the potential energy usage, with population growth, business growth, and so on. Overall power consumption in California was estimated by the Commission to be down by over 9% in 2001, compared to 2000.)

Could California lead the way in a similar reduction of heat-trapping gasses? Why not? The Democrats are pushing an even tougher bill through the legislature, perhaps eager to take credit themselves…and we know leadership on this issue is not going to come from Washington, D.C.

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