What George Clooney Can Teach Us About Climate Change

Well it’s just a stupid argument. If you have 99 percent of doctors who tell you ‘you are sick’ and 1 percent that says ‘you’re fine,’ you probably want to hang out with, check it up with the 99. You know what I mean? The idea that we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change is ridiculous. What’s the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit?

—George Clooney, after Typhoon Haiyan, on advocates of fossil fuels

Since I’m going to devote a column to a quote by George Clooney, who, to put it mildly is not an expert on energy or environmental issues, let me start by answering the obvious question: “Why?”

Isn’t the logical content of an article “What George Clooney Can Teach Us About Climate Change” an empty browser window?

Not exactly.

Celebrity political utterances can be very educational—not about the subject matter, but about popular opinion. Since most celebrities desperately need to remain popular, and have a phalanx of press agents to advise them on what positions to take, what they say is a good indication of what is considered politically correct. And what is considered politically correct is politically possible.

Thus, I am something close to terrified about Clooney’s comment: “What’s the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit?”

Clooney is talking about the idea that we should “do something about climate change.” For Clooney’s environmentalist allies, that typically translates into: globally outlaw 80-95 percent of future fossil fuel use and force us to try to subsist on expensive, unreliable solar and wind energy.

For someone who understands that affordable energy is a life and death issue, this does not translate into “clean up the earth a little bit,” it translates into “making life on earth hellish for billions.” It would mean that the 1.4 billion people around the world who lack electricity—and thus have a life expectancy of 48—would not be lifted out of poverty, but would be joined by billions more.

It would mean a far dirtier environment—only high-energy, highly-developed countries have clean environments. And it would mean a far more dangerous climate. While Clooney makes time to publicly declare his solidarity with the victims, he should take some time to think about what would have actually protected them: industrial development powered by affordable, reliable energy. Had the Philippines been a more industrialized country, it would have likely had much closer to the 100-200 deaths of Hurricane Sandy than the thousands that have been reported so far.

To George Clooney, affordable, reliable energy from fossil fuels is a meaningless abstraction. He may know that there is energy involved in fueling his limo or chartered jet or Hollywood galas. He certainly doesn’t seem to realize that energy is the key to anyone and everyone having food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medical care, and leisure time. Or that all sources of energy aren’t created equal.

His view of coal plants and oil rigs, the lungs of civilization, is that they are unnecessary eyesores (why can’t everything be a Hollywood set?) that we can “clean up the earth a little bit” by getting rid of.

I’m not singling out George Clooney here because he’s particularly bad. I’m singling him out because he is not particularly bad—his perspective is all-too-normal. Clooney is not acting as some free-thinking radical but a simple cipher for what he has picked up in our media and educational system. That system gives us no positive appreciation of energy, but it does give us a limitless capacity to spout meaningless buzzwords (“climate change”), manipulative analogies (the planet is “sick” and alarmists are “doctors”—as if a planet can get sick), straw men (“we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change”), insults (“ridiculous”), and intimidation (referring to a fabricated “99 percent of doctors”). Worst of all, this unthinking, authoritarian approach is regarded as scientific when it deserves to be called Climate Scientology.

A proper educational system would have taught young George to think big-picture: to look at both the positives and negatives of every technology with precision. If someone told him fossil fuels were bad because they were impacting the climate, he would want to know whether that impact was big or small, bad or good . . . a harmless byproduct or mild side-effect or fatal cancer? They would have taught young George that any call to restrict the production of cheap, plentiful, reliable energy should be treated with the gravest concern, since energy is life.

When that kind of education is widespread, it will be politically correct for the next George Clooney to say “I Love Fossil Fuels.”