What’s driving George Will’s warped views on environmental issues, including his criticism of compact fluorescent light bulbs?
On issues relating to the environment, George Will’s strategy has been to draw his curve, then plot his data. As of late, he’s been denying far more than climate change; he’s denying the data relating to climate change. It has gotten so bad that he’s been pointing to changes in the weather to attempt to rebut evidence that there are changes in climate, an unfair tactic that even fourth-graders know enough to criticize. Throughout his arguments, Will delights in sprinkling in pointy little reminders that the government is always misguided, as though we should trust in the “free market.”
This week, in an article published by the Washington Post, Will has employed all of his favorite forms of paltering in a full-scale attack on compact fluorescent light bulbs. He doesn’t like compact fluorescent bulbs for a variety of reasons that he enunciates. Without citing any statistics, he claims that some of those bulbs might not last as long as the bulb life indicated on the package. Because of the existence of mercury in the bulbs, he gripes that we can’t just toss them away in the general trash when they break or cease working. Will also complains that CFL’s are not all-purpose bulbs—they don’t work in hot places with limited airflow. And they take a bit to get to their full brightness. Down with CFL’s!
The gist of Will’s attack is that compact fluorescent bulbs are not perfect. He therefore seeks to dispense with the option of using CFL’s without bothering to note that incandescent bulbs threaten us with a huge energy-drain in a world where energy is getting disproportionately precious and therefore expensive. In other words, Will seeks to attack an alternative to energy-gulping incandescent light bulbs in isolation, hoping no one notices that anything can be attacked in isolation because everything is imperfect. Will appears to be hoping that his readers will all be so utterly distracted by his petty gripes that they forget that most CFL’s are more than three times as energy efficient as incandescent bulbs. Yes, George, compared to those incandescent bulbs you adore, those CFL’s are incredible energy efficient. Yes, George. We actually have an energy crisis and using less energy will help the cause.
Smashing Will’s arguments is like shooting fish in a barrel. For instance, see how Will’s arguments were obliterated by Get Energy Smart! Now!!! On the issue of product life, Will doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “average” life. Will’s arguments can also be exposed as hypocritical. Is he really worried about the mercury in the bulbs? If so, why isn’t he expressing concern about the massive amount of mercury being released by coal mining? And see here. If he’s really so perturbed about the need to take special steps to dispose of CFL’s, isn’t that a good reason to stop manufacturing computers too? After all, because of the presence of toxic metals in computers, responsible people shouldn’t throw them in the regular trash either.
Will’s blindered approach to energy issues make it clear that he’s emotionally committed to being only part of the problem. Based on his article this week, I suspect that George Will has never screwed in or turned on a compact fluorescent bulb. His tone reminds me of my proudly ultra-conservative neighbor who, when he saw me bringing home a package of compact florescent bulbs stated, “You should buy real light bulbs.” He added, “Those bulbs are sissy bulbs.” My neighbor believes that CFLs are emasculating. Using them is not manly. Real men do things like eschew diplomacy and wage wars. Real men eat red meat, not arugula. On the issue of energy, real men drive massive energy-wasting vehicles. Real men certainly can’t be bothered to conserve energy. How dare those liberals tell us how to live our lives!
“Real men” revel in conspicuous consumption, because it makes them feel important. Wasting resources is a Darwinian display that elevates one’s social status. Look around at the huge houses and cars in the well-to-do conservative suburbs. Then consider that human animals are no different in this regard than most other animals. Consider, for example, the peacock’s tail and the hundreds of other examples catalogued by Amotz Zahavi. And see here.
I realize that my mini-evolutionary-psycho-analysis of George Will is speculative, but I also think it’s time that we tried to get to the root cause of the widespread resistance so many conservatives exhibit regarding the proven strategy of conserving energy. The problem is deep and emotional; most conservatives are too smart to blame their resistance to conservation on ignorance or insanity. Again, my guess is that many conservatives consider it emasculating to save energy through conservation. They need to get over it, because their country needs their brains to prevail over their emotions on this issue.
It’s time for George Will and his red-meat-eating conservative base to take a close look at another trait often considered “manly”: courage. Is George Will a “courageous” writer? Not at all. Courageous people put their opponent’s best foot forward before deciding to attack it. Courageous people are self-critical of their own facts and opinions; they attack their own positions even more than they attack the positions of their opponents. Courageous people ask themselves whether their own attacks are even-handed. Courageous people don’t settle to score cheap political points in order to make a buck. Courageous people take the time to know the facts and to acknowledge that real solutions to complicated problems won’t be perfect or easy. Courageous people work hard to become part of the solution.
I’d suspect that George Will hasn’t had much time to actually try out CFLs (or research their benefits), since he has been too busy fantasizing that he can somehow turn back the clock to 1950. It will never again be 1950, though; we can never again afford to be carefree about energy production and usage. Will needs to take a long deep look at his own motives and fears, and then get over them, in order to become a positive force for addressing a huge and pressing real-world energy crisis.