Eschewing teleconferences that could reduce their carbon footprints to almost nothing (assuming they all own computers and work in offices appropriately outfitted with vision-wrecking fluorescent overheads), the usual bureaucratic suspects have gathered in Cancun, Mexico, for another round of United Nations’ “talks on climate change”—that malleable and useful crisis upon which every weather variant and geological shift may be blamed without proof, for as long as the scam can dependably line the right pockets, and infringe upon our daily living without discomfiting the elite.
These determined negativists, having parked their private jets at the shady end of the tarmac, are currently meeting, eating, greeting, and presenting to a standing choir that needs no persuasion, their increasingly unpersuasive scientific “studies” forecasting the inevitable death of planet Earth.
Once again, as we have heard for what seems like decades, the attendees are filled with “a sense of foreboding.” We are warned that this gathering is the world’s annual “last chance” to stop climates from changing and little ice ages or big tropical ages from occurring as they have naturally, before. The headlines promise chaos unless dramatic, liberty-and-opportunity-narrowing steps are taken to compel wayward humanity into Gaia-salvific obedience. Writes the Daily Telegraph in the U.K.:
Global warming is now such a serious threat to mankind that climate change experts are calling for Second World War-style rationing in rich countries to bring down carbon emissions. . . . This could mean a limit on electricity so people are forced to turn the heating down, turn off the lights and replace old electrical goods like huge fridges with more efficient models. Food that has travelled from abroad may be limited and goods that require a lot of energy to manufacture.
Well, we’re not sure how that sentence was supposed to end, but perhaps goods that require a lot of energy to manufacture will no longer be available to the masses of great unwashed, who—being peasants—shouldn’t really need much more than an icebox, a milk cow, and a cabbage patch, anyway.
Of course, other bureaucrats and scholars are suggesting that even rationing may not be enough to save our doomed planet, but (at this writing, anyway) no one has yet suggested the total elimination of private modes of transportation in favor of the omnibus. At least not for their class.
Curiously, no one at these conferences ever suggests that less-draconian measures, affecting a relative minority of human beings, might be worth exploring. Beyond canceling their annual exotically-located meet-up in favor of efficient teleconferences, for instance, these people might want to take a good, hard look at the entertainment industry in general, and rock bands in particular.
Let them start with U2, the Irish rock band that—even as our put-upon saints in Cancun are weeping over Gaia—has landed its current extravaganza, “The 360 Tour,” in Australia. Billed as the biggest tour ever mounted, and at a daily cost of $850,000, the show requires six 747 jets, 55 trucks, and an assembly crew of 130. “You compare a tour by the number of trucks they use,” production manager Jake Berry said. “The Rolling Stones ran 46 trucks. We are running 55. This is the biggest.”
Now, I am a longtime fan of U2. I sat through Rattle and Hum, and liked it. In my top-five-list of great albums, I include The Joshua Tree, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and the magnificent Achtung, Baby! I think The Edge is an underrated, innovative guitarist.
But before I am a pop-band fan, I am a person looking at headlines suggesting that my life should be profoundly recalibrated in order to serve a dubious scientific theory, one that seems designed to be redefined on a bureaucratic whim. If “rationing” is being proposed as the latest cure for what ails the earth, then let us discuss genuine excess; let us put “biggest” in perspective, and fandom be damned.
Consider that in the early 1990’s, U2’s ZooTV tour was at that time considered to be the biggest, most expensive, most energy-sucking concert ever produced. According to Wikipedia:
The stage . . . featured vidi walls, 36 video monitors, numerous television cameras, two separate mix positions, 26 on stage microphones, 176 speakers, and 11 elaborately painted Trabants, several of which were suspended over the stage with spotlights inserted into headlights, which all required 1 million watts of power to operate: enough to run 2,000 homes.
A total of 52 trucks were required to transport the 1,200 tons of equipment, 3 miles of cabling, 200 labourers, 12 forklifts and one 40-ton crane, required to construct the stage.
And that was for every show.
That’s a pretty impressive bit of consumption, but let’s add into that the air-conditioning at the indoor venues. Add into it the trains, planes, and automobiles used to transport hundreds of thousands of people to the shows. Add to it the klieg lights used for every televised interview, the trees killed to print every magazine promo and the $30.00 posters sold at all 157 shows. And consider if you will the souvenir teeshirts—possibly stitched together in some hellish Indonesian sweatshop–that weren’t even made out of bamboo fiber!
One wonders: had U2 had not run the ZooTV tour twenty years ago, would the planet be in its very death throes today?
It is not necessarily a bad thing to discourage material excess in societies. Anyone reading about the boorish misbehavior of people willing to dehumanize themselves for a 50 percent discount on “Black Friday” might justly conclude that we are too beholden to mere things, which are disposable and quickly obsolete.
So, why are we not discouraging artistic excesses with the same fervor? After all, what is more dubiously purchased and instantly-obsolete than a live performance, which is lost on the air, its value spent in two hours, and which does not even have the benefit of—like a great piece of sculpture or an album like The Joshua Tree—enthralling future generations?
For that matter, if the planet is truly in jeopardy, shouldn’t all public extravaganzas having to do with airborne art or mere athletics be canceled until further notice? It is difficult to imagine that the elimination of Olympic competitions, rock concerts, nighttime football, soccer and baseball games (and their attendant travel requirements), and the elimination of all film-or-television programming requiring non-CGI-generated explosions or giant lighting structures would not have a measurable effect in lowering CO2 levels and generally tidying up the place.
We are assured by U2’s manager, Paul McGuinness, that even though the daily cost of running the 360 Tour is astronomical, “It’s important we play regularly. There is a discipline involved.” But just in case anyone worries that Gaia must suffer for the discipline of U2’s art, they may breathe easily: “Even though we’re spending a lot of money, we’re making a lot of money.”
That’s a relief. As we read the dire news out of Cancun, that food and material goods may need to be rationed among the little people, for the good of the earth, we may take comfort in knowing that, before we retire to our cold-water flats, we will still be permitted to expend large amounts of our hard-earned cash for the privilege of being entertained and lectured by extremely wealthy musicians who inveigh against greed and endorse big-government solutions to social and environmental problems, even as they move their assets to tax-reduced locations, and fly their multiple 747’s and drive their scores of trucks to their next profitable, ephemeral gig.
It is a funny sort of global crisis that requires sacrificial amends and rationing—with the accompanying restrictions on earnings and opportunities—from some people, while others are permitted to continue living their lives and making their profits pretty much as they always have.
But then, it is a funny old world, isn’t it?
Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer of First Things. She blogs at The Anchoress. Her previous articles for “On the Square” can be found here.
From the Daily Telegraph (U.K.): Cancun Climate Conference: What is my carbon footprint?; Cancun climate change summit: scientists call for rationing in developed world; Cancun Climate Change Conference the Diary; and Cancun climate change talks: ‘last chance’ in the snakepit.
From the Herald Sun (Australia): U2 arrives in Australia with 360 Degrees tour.
From Tax Research UK: Bono's Choices.