When President Jimmy Carter wanted Americans to conserve energy in 1979, he set an example by wearing a sweater and turning down the White House thermostat. Today, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger boasts that he is a world leader in the fight against global warming -- but his advocacy shouldn't keep him from flying in private jets or driving a Hummer.
The gas-guzzling governator is on the cover of Newsweek. The Austrian Oak is now global warming's jolly green giant. Last week at Georgetown University, Schwarzenegger explained how he was making environmentalism more attractive. The problem with enviros, he said, was that people thought they "were no fun" -- "like prohibitionists at a fraternity party."
Plan Arnold is to turn environmentalism from a phenomenon based on guilt to a successful movement "built on passion." Call it You-Can-Have-It-All Environmentalism.
Sure, the Republican governor told Georgetown students, enviros used to criticize (real) men like him for "powering my private airplanes. So it is too bad, of course, that we can't all live simple lives like the Buddhist monks in Tibet. But you know something. That's not going to happen."
Translation: Schwarzenegger can boast about signing a bill that calls for California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020 -- but don't expect him to curb his own super-size emissions.
It was not that long ago that your average politician did not want to be seen owning a few big SUVs while pushing for more stringent federal fuel-efficiency standards for American cars. They did not want to be branded as hypocrites.
Now Al Gore, who hyper-consumes energy in his Tennessee home, and Schwarzenegger, who is always jumping on a private jet after eco-friendly media events, can burn energy like the most flagrant energy hogs.
As long as they say they believe in global warming, they personally don't have to do much about global warming.
Spokesman Aaron McLear told me that the governor is looking into solar panels for his home and buys credits to offset his carbon footprint. Schwarzenegger also converted one of his four Hummers to hydrogen power -- actually GM converted the car and lets Schwarzenegger drive it when he wants -- and another to biodiesel.
"It's not the car," McLear explained, "it's the engine."
Also, Schwarzenegger does not drive much these days -- the California Highway Patrol drives him.
That's not enough. I do not expect Schwarzenegger to ride the bus. But he should not hype his GM-converted Hummer as "environmentally muscular." He should show some respect for fuel-efficient cars -- those we mere mortals can afford -- and try flying commercial. Get out some, and meet a few real folk -- in first class.
Because, while Schwarzenegger boasted at Georgetown that California is "sending the world a message" on global warming, his behavior and his rhetoric send a different signal: Conserving energy is for girlie men.
I will receive many e-mails defending Schwarzenegger -- all along the lines that at least he believes in global warming. And he has signed bills to force other people to conserve in the future.
After all, no one really expects stars or rich people to sacrifice. All the glitterati have to do is really believe in global warming, maybe ride in a hybrid to the Oscars -- and then their carbon trails (which are much larger than those of people who take the bus every day) won't stink.
It's laughable. Those who believe that global warming is caused by man -- I am agnostic on that score -- claim that they are on the side of Science. That's Science with a capital S.
Yet they applaud when a so-called leader on global warming speaks as if "environmentally muscular" technologies and carbon offsets can manufacture a 25-percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. They have this odd belief that the key to fighting global warming is not by cutting energy use, but by believing in global warming. They embrace wishful thinking -- and call it science.