Last year’s internet rumor spread like a wildfire on government — that is, neglected — lands: Belgian regulators began helicopter sweeps using thermal imaging would monitor compliance with a “global warming” barbeque tax.
At first, no word leaked on the helicopters’ paint job.
It wasn’t true. The lesson of the Great Barbeque Crackdown that Wasn’t is not that such fears are overblown but, as G. K. Chesterton said, “A thing may be too sad to be believed or too wicked to be believed or too good to be believed; but it cannot be too absurd to be believed”.
Modern Europe is channeling its instinct to invade and subjugate, to the (slightly) less destructive pursuits of environmentalism and suffocating governance. The barbecue rumor tipped its hat to France’s greatest modern achievement, the success with which it has exported panache for petty bureaucracy continent-wide: the whirlybirds snooping only extended, for now, to Belgium’s Francophile Walloons. The Flemish, well, their time would come.
Few seemed troubled by the tale being rather elaborate, beginning with the Wallonians’ somewhat limited reputation as outdoor grillmasters. Even the most craven loyalists couldn’t quite bring themselves demur “oh, they would never do that!” Sort of like with Anita Broderick’s narrative about Bill Clinton.
In fact, the episode reminded me of the first time I heard the spittle-flecked “conspiracy nut!” claim bandied about in the environmental policy debates. In 1996 the Environmental Protection Agency proposed what were then the most expensive regulations, of any sort, in our history. It was so bad they published it on a Friday, one day after Thanksgiving.
At issue, grossly oversimplified, was a sweeping plan to further regulate the air, both concentrations of particulate matter (measuring 2.5 microns or less…read: really tiny) and ozone (to 0.08 parts per million). That’s what regulators do, of course, once they have authority to keep doing it until stopped. As anyone familiar with bureaucrats generally and EPA specifically, once you can measure something you just have to regulate it. Ten microns, parts per trillion, whatever, that’s just a challenge for newer and more limits and permits.
Despite sounding so pointy-headed, it was a very big deal and went all the way to the Supreme Court. At the time, commentators like Michael Fumento warned that a plain reading of the rule made clear that EPA was coming after your lawnmowers, weed-whackers and leaf-blowers; if not next year, then soon.
The reaction of EPA’s cheerleaders was typical. Fumento notes:
“[I]n sworn testimony to Congress in 1997, [Clinton’s EPA administrator Carol Browner] told a different story. The standards are ‘not about outdoor barbecues and lawn mowers,’ she testified, smearing such assertions as ‘junk science’ and ‘scare tactics.’ Said Browner: ‘They are fake. They are wrong. They are manipulative.’ Frank O’Donnell, then-executive director of the Clean Air Trust, called talk of regulating lawn mowers ‘crazed propaganda.’”
Hmmm. Why, just last Thursday, a day also ideal for burying news in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Sarah, did EPA announce that it was indeed going to regulate emissions from lawn mower engines, 25-horsepower or smaller? These, like boat engines, now must have catalytic converters.
Don’t worry. This state of affairs won’t last long. After all, catalytic converters oxidize toxic carbon monoxide emissions into “plant food”, or carbon dioxide…the, uh, gravest threat the world has ever known.
But as Fumento pointed out a decade ago, this really isn’t about your lawnmower. It’s an agenda, which is only getting off the ground in moonbat Europe; here, the near-term goal is to bring us at least to that level. I work in Europe, my wife’s from Europe, and I can tell you that driving to the in-laws’ from Copenhagen airport it looks like someone forgot to mow the driveway. Weeds are right and good. And huge and everywhere. It’s Nature’s way. And it’s just a start.
This isn’t about lawnmowers, it’s about an agenda and an approach. They propose, you object, they shout you down and call you a nutter. Then soon enough prove you right.
Which brings us to the Big Kahuna, the Mother Lode, “global warming”.
We see our future president kneeling at the Altar of Big Warming, either in green piety or desperately seeking approval. When asked both candidates eagerly agree with alarmist hype about the “greatest threat facing Mankind”, somehow only giving it a passing wink-and-a-nod in widely viewed addresses.
That’s enough to say they ran on it. Come transition-team time, with no more announcement of a reversal than we heard from the Lawnmower Police, all of the attendant sages will nod at the gravity of the situation and the need to consider “global warming” in all economic, energy, transport and other policy discussions.
People like Fumento and I will tell you the objectives and costs of that agenda. And you’ll be told that’s crazy. And, at least in that one sense, you’ll be told the truth.