III Publishing

Hypocrisy: Coal Miners versus Green Flyers
April 16, 2023
by William P. Meyers

Site Search

Popular pages:

U.S. War Against Asia
Slow Motion Apocalypse
Republican Party
Natural Liberation

Whose ox is gored?

When I sat down for my first Political Science class in college, the first thing that the professor said was that politics is about "whose ox is gored." What this meant was, referring to an earlier epoch, that sides are taken according to how people see their economic interests. I found very little Science in the Political Science courses I took. We did consider the cannon of great political thinkers, and how polling can help a candidate win an election. But science in the sense of hypothesis testing and applying knowledge to engineer better results was only a dream. Some things that upset me, like racist practices in the U.S., did seem to have economic underpinnings. But the big upset, the Vietnam War, seemed to have come down to a decision by Lyndon Johnson that starting it would protect him against a run to his right by Robert Kennedy. Who then ran to Johnson's left, before he was assassinated.

Right now the main crisis gripping the world, and upsetting me, is the environmental crisis. It has many components, but the one at the forefront is global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide. Today the U.S. government is beginning to take action. If the action had been taken in 1990, it could have been effective. If the Republican Party does not gain control again and reverse the new laws, the new laws tempering carbon dioxide emissions will make the world a bit less hellish in say, 2050. But a lot comes down to the decisions of the 8 billion people who inhabit the earth, in particular the 330 million who live in the U.S. I have not taken a poll, but I have sampled enough data to know that most of the people who like to label themselves environmentalists are not actually willing to take a bit of goring for the cause.

Goring other groups is fine. Take coal miners, both the workers in the industry and the owners of the industry. Gore them to death, environmentalists have been fine with that. Coal is the very essence of the industrialization of earth. Its best quality is when it is almost pure carbon. It did not come into widespread use until the 1700s. During that century it was used to replace charcoal for heating and refining ores into metals, including iron. The industrious revolution evolved into the industrial revolution by the year 1800 (and the global human population reached one billion). Coal powered furnaces and steam engines, which made it possible to mine more coal, transport it on railroads, and move ships more reliably across oceans. Petroleum products came into use much later.

hypocrisyHypocrisy circuits

Today coal still supplies much of the world's power, mostly for electricity, though it is being phased out in the United States and other nations that were industrialized early, like England and France. It problem is its purity. Burn coal for energy and all of it is converted to carbon dioxide. Burn any petroleum product and much of the energy comes from the hydrogen attached to the carbon chain, producing water in addition to carbon dioxide.

Hey, ho, coal has to go! Given how much coal miners used to complain about the work, you would think they would be happy to change careers. But the closing of a coal mine often means economic ruin for the surrounding region. Getting a new job, much less one that pays as well, or one that lets you stay in your home town, is not easy. Toughen up, said the environmentalists and their political leaders. We are ruining your lives for the good of the planet and all mankind and all species!

[Disclosure: I worked as a laborer, laying railroad tracks to a new coal mine, in Wyoming, in 1977. I know what hard physical work is like. I have mainly avoided it ever since.]

Lately I have joined with a relatively small group of environmental activists to try to eliminate one of the important sources of carbon emissions. There are a lot of sources: industry, agriculture, and ground transportation seem to be the three largest. But there is another scale that is important: what are the most frivolous sources of carbon dioxide? People argue about this. Vegetarians argue beef steaks are. For a long time I argued against air conditioning [I grew up without it, so I see it as a luxury].

I have come to the conclusion that the most frivolous large scale source of carbon dioxide is flying. While some flying is done by the military, or moves around cargo, or is for business, most of it is for tourism. Vacations. Even a lot of "business" flying is optional. While not as significant in total as automobile transportation, flying represents about 4% of global fossil fuel emissions and its growing fast in its contribution. Despite global warming, more people want to fly, not less.

A number of environmental groups have tried to convince the public to voluntarily stop flying. For example, Extinction Rebellion and Flight Free USA. In an America where over 50% of people believe in global warming and think something should be done about it, you would think flying would have dropped by 50% instead of going up. In particular, miles flown could be brought down by vacationing near home rather than in Europe, the Pacific Isles, or Asia. But no.

I haven't seen a poll or taken a poll, but I have seen how my friends and acquaintances have responded to the situation. Almost all of my friends are environmentalist. Most are Democrats, but I have a lot of left-of-democrats on my friend list. Some of them do not fly, or fly very little, but they have been that way all their lives.

One friend continues to fly frequently to Europe because he owns a property there that is specifically for vacationing. He thought of living there permanently, and still might, but even then he plans to fly to the U.S. at least twice a year to see his children and grandchildren. He is in the upper income tier of my friends. But my starving artist friends and school teacher friends always seem to be able to scrape together enough for a trip outside the U.S. every year or two. Some of my Democratic Party activist friends [in the last few years I have served as both Secretary and Treasurer of the Democratic Party in my legislative district] like to get in a trip to Europe every year. My scientist friends fly. Even leaders of local environmental groups fly around a lot.

These flying environmentalists do not see flying as a privilege. Questioned, they admit they know flying uses astonishing quantities of fuel. Many of them drive hybrid or electric vehicles, and many are vegetarians. They grew up in an era when studying in Europe, or touring Europe, was a symbol of one's elite status. They see themselves as cultured. A trip to Europe or Japan is not just a restful holiday, it is the imbibing of education, culture, and art.

They are not at all like those high-school educated coal miners who don't understand the environmental crisis. Most of these friends have graduate degrees [I have a B.A.]. Compared to coal miners, their jobs are not stressful. Many are retired. They would rather fly from Seattle to Paris or Tokyo for lunch or a weekend than drive to Bellingham or Port Townsend. They don't want restful vacations: they want stimulation.

There is a word predating Political Science for this phenomena: hypocrisy.

I am an atheist, but I stand with Jesus and the coal miners and petroleum workers on this point: "27 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

Disclaimer: I flew to Europe 3 time and to Tahiti 2 times when I was younger. Mea culpa.

III Blog list of articles
Copyright 2023 William P. Meyers. All rights reserved.