Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Shape of Fears to Come

Now that global warming seems to cooling off as our environmental panic du jour, the WSJ's Bret Stephens opens it up to his readers to speculate on what sky will be the next to be claimed to be falling:

Given the inescapability of weather, it's no wonder global warming gripped the public mind as long as it did. And there's always some extreme-weather event happening somewhere to be offered as further evidence of impending catastrophe. But even weather gets boring, and so do the people who natter about it incessantly. What this decade requires is a new and better panic.

Herewith, then, I propose a readers' contest to invent the next panic. It must involve something ubiquitous, invisible to the naked eye, and preferably mass-produced. And the solution must require taxes, regulation, and other changes to civilization as we know it. The winner gets a beer and a burger, on me, at the 47th street Pig N' Whistle in New York City. (Nachos for vegetarians.) Happy panicking!

At first blush, this may seem like an invitation to take candy from a baby (although usually getting beer from a journalist is more like blood from a turnip). After all, a good part of the public seems increasingly willing to buy into whatever environmental catastrophe is being peddled at the time.

However, when you think about all the scares that have already been foisted on us, you realize there aren't that many options still out there. In addition to the weather, we've also been told to worry about rain (acid), the sun (harmful UV rays), the sky (ozone depletion), the air (polluted), the water (contaminated), and the ground (radon gases). And then there's the unseen dangers posed by power lines, cell phones, TV/radio antennas, and microwaves that have been a boon for Big Tinfoil. Fertilizer, genetically modified crops, carbon dioxide, pesticides, lead paint, DDT, artificial sweeteners, irradiated meat, charcoal grills, and pretty much every chemical ever identified? Bad, bad, bad! We've also been regularly told that we're on the verge of running out of oil, water, land, trees, food, and minerals. Because we've got too many people and the population of the earth in ___ (insert year) will become unsustainable for humanity.

Given all that we've been told to fear already, what else is there for environmental scare-mongers to throw at us next? Nothing immediately comes to mind, but the lure of a burger and beer on Bret Stephens should provide some powerful motivation.

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