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Reason Foundation

Climate Change and the Nanny State

Do we need the government to save us from ourselves?

David Harsanyi
September 23, 2009

If Jesus raised the dead tomorrow, our science czar probably would be too busy calculating the carbon footprint to find salvation.

But who needs Christ when the flock is blessed with sound moral guidance from men and women whose lifework has been cajoling 50 percent plus one to push a button?

From our extravagant health care choices to our risky financial behavior to our ill-conceived love of profit to, most tragically, our immoral penchant for air-conditioning our homes, we need help. I need help.

This week, prepping for the upcoming Copenhagen climate change talks, Dr. Steven Chu, our erstwhile energy secretary, crystallized the administration's underlining thinking by claiming that the "American public ... just like your teenage kids, aren't acting in a way that they should act. The American public has to really understand in their core how important this issue is."

Did you know that Cabinet positions come equipped with a handbook detailing how Americans "should act"? If teenagers—irresponsible bunch of weasels that they usually are—are in need of moral supervision, an environmental train wreck like me needs an intervention.

After all, President Barack Obama warned me this week that a failure to address the problem of "carbon pollution" could create an "irreversible catastrophe." (Yeah, Oxygen, you're next.) Chu recently referred to Earth as "the great ship Titanic."

Chu will deploy bureaucrats to more than 6,000 public schools to, um, teach children about "climate change" and efficiency. They probably won't mention that the Energy Department was found to have wasted millions on inefficient use of energy by an independent auditor this year. (Listen, even our parents aren't perfect.)

Chu the adult likes to say that coal—which as we speak is likely powering your computer, your office, and your house and allows your kids to sit in their schoolhouse without freezing their little toes off in early fall—is his "worst nightmare."

Coal. Not an energy that is running its course or one that the market will replace. This energy source accounts for more than half of electricity production in the entire nation.

Chu, a physicist and Nobel Prize winner—and, unlike me, a deadly serious person—believes that "all the world's roofs should be painted white as part of efforts to slow global warming." Guess what? Not one white roof in my community. What's the holdup? Do we have to pass a law?

We do. Because you are hopeless, petulant, immoral, and clueless. Your nightmare starts with banning a plastic bag at the grocery and ends with a job-killing cap-and-trade scheme. It starts with a public service announcement from a third-tier celebrity and ends with you scouring the earth to find a light bulb that lights something.

For you, the immoral-inclined, there is hope. According to a new Gallup Poll, Americans believe that government is too intrusive. Gallup data show that 57 percent of Americans say the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals. Forty-five percent say there is too much government regulation, and only 27 percent say the amount of regulation is about right.

There is one question we all have to answer: What's more important, negligibly reducing "carbon pollution" through coercive policies or protecting personal freedom and allowing real markets to work? That's the trade-off. Parenting won't change the question.

Remember when George W. Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, claimed that the president saw the American people "as we think about a 10-year-old child"? His comment, understandably, caused much mockery and disdain.

The problem, apparently, wasn't the paternalist sentiment; it was the parent offering it. What we needed was a brainy, grown-up administration to harangue and regulate us into submission.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com. This column first appeared at Reason.com.

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