Defending the Green Gestapo

Carbon Cops - Transforming Energy Use

Well at least on TV! This is in response to Robert Tracinski’s recent opinion piece, The Seeds of the Global Warming Police State where he rails against global warming hysteria and environmentalist “eagerness to reach into the smallest details of our private existence and re-arrange our lifestyle to fit the austere requirements of their political ideology”.

He lambastes Australian home improvement TV Show Carbon Cops and other media as examples of green ideology gone too far, criticizes green legislative initiatives, and concludes as follows:

Australia’s “carbon cops” may be fictional, but they are the harbinger of a real attempt to use the power of the state to strip us of the accoutrements of prosperity: our light bulbs, our cars, our televisions, our freshly laundered towels.

Um, it’s just a TV show :-) . But let’s hear him out …

In a bizarre inversion of the typical American home improvement show, the experts in this show descend on the hapless homeowners to measure their “carbon footprint,” the amount of fossil fuels involved in the manufacture and use of every item in their house. The “carbon cops” are shown rummaging through a family’s smallest household items, searching for global warming contraband–and then scolding them for “polluting” the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

Each week they don their orange monogrammed shirts to cordon off the toxic home of an Australian family. They arrive with energy-auditing gadgetry, sobering statistics, and lips and eyebrows curled in withering admonishment. They rate these people, shame them, then challenge them to do better.

What bizarre inversion? Making homeowners feel bad for their tacky taste, DIY incompetence or just plain ignorance in exchange for a free remodel and 22 minutes of fame is a standard formula, totally acceptable as “entertainment” in the Home Improvement TV industry. Reality TV is a faustian bargain at best and we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Green television in particular has suffered from being boring and has failed to catch on, in spite of the weighty issues at hand.

In a medium that thrives on explosive hits, the merely smouldering issue of global warming is proving about as gripping as watching trees grow … This year we’ve already seen two well-intentioned environmental awareness shows come and go …
- smh article

Perhaps the Carbon Cops are trying to stir things up, be controversial for commercial crossover appeal? Hence the dayglo suits and police tape. It’s a gimmick. And going for some emotional shock value by making the family “feel bad about how they live, only in a smiling pleasant way” seems to be part of it, rightly or wrongly. “Blame, embarrassment and middleclass guilt are the key ingredients”.

As Tracinski points out, the “victims” (I prefer homeowners) are willing participants. As the sign up form explains:

Each household involved will have their home’s structure, appliances, vehicles and habits assessed for energy efficiency. You will then be supported and inspired to make physical and habitual changes.

So there you go – “supported and inspired” to change. But if you sign up for a show with the word “cops” in the name, don’t expect it to be “Carbon Crossing Guards”.

The goal of the show is to get behavioral change out of the participants and viewers. To educate and enlighten … but also to trigger a real change in the choices we make day to day. But for people to be motivated to change, they need to feel uncomfortable about where they are now (cognitive dissonance theory). And integrate new information, a better way of doing things, as a way to resolve that conflict. We may not like it emotionally, but Carbon Cops is doing exactly what they said they would do.

A couple of things “inconvenient truths” Tracinski failed mention. First of all, not everyone felt ashamed. Mom was mortified but dad was quoted as saying “the global warming scare is all bollocks anyway“. Secondly, Tracinski chose to ignore the show’s stated goal in the article he referenced: to show people “how easy it is for them to reduce their carbon emissions without having a huge impact on their lifestyle“. Probably because these facts undermine his assertions about the insidious nature of the environmentalist agenda.

Although green awareness has grown immensely over the last few years, legislation of some kind seems to be an inevitable course of action, if the global warming danger is as real as publicized. Behavioral change on a large scale is difficult to bring about. And as behavioral researchers note:

“you might be able to avoid the need to convince your target audience to change its behaviour altogether if you can create structural changes that bring about the same result”. Kline Weinreich illustrates this view with the idea that passing a law that requires all residential pools to have childproof safety fences would be more effective at combating drowning than attempting to change the pool behaviour of parents and their children.

The question then goes back to whether the environmental threat is real and how effectively legislation can reasonably combat that threat. Pardon my cynicism but the “liberty and prosperity” in jeopardy argument just doesn’t wash. Tracinski needs to get off his soapbox and “get real”. The liberal influencers are as affluent as the conservative ones and for all their talk about the issues (Al Gore & Global Warming, Bill Clinton and his sod roofs), have yet to give up their affluent lifestyles. It just ain’t gonna happen. The influencers can say what they want, but the decision-makers report back to the voters and middle America isn’t ready to support any kind of “Global Warming Police State”, now or in the near future.

Yes we will probably see legislation aimed at broad based reductions in carbon consumption. But on an individual level, we won’t see a lot of intrusion, just more of what we are seeing now. More green tax credits and incentives. And more “energy saving behavior” on the part of consumers because it just makes financial common sense, not because environmental activists say so.

By the way, Carbon Cops had a decent rating in its first week. So the Green Police must be doing something right – they got people to tune in instead of tuning out. Now they’ve just got to get people to want to change.

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