In Search of Cheney’s “Virtue”

Nickolas Kristof, unlike an estimated 97% of pundits, actually goes out and researches the topics he writes about, talking to experts, ordinary folks, and traveling to difficult places like Chad and Cambodia to report on harrowing issues such as genocide and child slavery. He’s about to take a leave from his paper, the New York Times, to write a book, but leaves us with a first rate column ($) on the wrongheadedness of Dick Cheney, who Kristof quietly but convincingly shows has totally misled us on energy and energy conservation.

Kristof begins:

Dick Cheney once scoffed that energy conservation can be a “personal virtue” but is no basis for an energy policy.

Growing evidence suggests he had it exactly wrong.

He then talks to a wide range of well-known experts on the issue, and shows that in fact working to conserve energy not only reduces the risks of global warming, but also can substantially help to grow the economy. Then he lowers the boom:

Climate skeptics say that we don’t know how serious climate change
will be, and they’re right. But isn’t it prudent to address threats
even when we’re unsure of them? We don’t expect to be caught in a fire,
but we still believe in fire escapes and fire departments.

Suppose we had political leaders who snorted that fires are nothing
new, that the science of firefighting is unclear, and that we can’t
impose a burden on business by establishing fire departments — while
brightly adding that citizens can extinguish fires on their own out of
“personal virtue.”

Why, we would think those leaders were nuts.

Trying to conserve our traditional climate, this weekend hundreds of protesters surrounded Heathrow Airport in London, and protested plans to expand into a neighboring village. Kim Murphy has a nice news piece about the protests in the Los Angeles Times, and concludes with a droll remark about the plaintive nature of the protest.

The greatest show of force was a midday parade through this village’s
streets — shadowed by Heathrow’s lumbering jets overhead — as
demonstrators carried placards reading, "No Third Runway," "Altitude
Sickness" and one of the catchier slogans of modern protest, "We Are
Armed Only With Peer-Reviewed Science."

It’s true — Nature magazine studies only go so far, no matter how intimidatingly written. Unfortunately. Which is why these sort of protests might, as Al Gore recently said, help focus our attention and our efforts on the issue.

Here’s a picture of the larger issues at stake in these protests from pro Simon Rigglesworth on Flickr.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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