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There Goes the Sun

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Back in the early 1990s, it was still possible to find humor in parody.

“Since the beginning of time man has yearned to destroy the sun,” cackled the evil Mr. Burns in an episode of TV show The Simpsons. “I will do the next best thing. Block it out!” Burns is angry because the sun delivers “free light, heat and energy.” He wants his customers in the dark so he can sell them more of the power he generates in his -- get ready to shudder, liberals -- nuclear power plant.

But these days, reality is parody.

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“If geo-engineers have a natural enemy, it is the sun,” writes Graeme Wood in the August issue of The Atlantic. “Their first impulse is to try to block it out.” How Burnsian of them. We can only hope, in a nod to another Burns (poet Robert), that this geo-engineering road remains “less traveled by” humanity.

The reality is simple: Since the dawn of time, humans have drawn their energy from the sun. The fact that so many societies through the millennia worshiped a sun god would seem to indicate that people, no matter how primitive by today’s standards, understood it was the font of life. After all, whether you’re eating strawberries or a side of beef, the calories in your food came, at some point, from the sun.

There are more than 6.7 billion of us alive today, and we all depend on the sun. But it wouldn’t take much to screw things up. “The scariest thing about geo-engineering, as it happens, is also the thing that makes it such a game-changer in the global-warming debate: it’s incredibly cheap,” Wood writes. One man could make unalterable changes to the entire planet’s environment.

“I don’t think we really want to empower the Richard Bransons of the world to try solutions like this,” environmental-law expert Jay Michaelson told The Atlantic. Especially since, as Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago, adds, “Geo-engineering makes the problem of ballistic-missile defense look easy. It has to work the first time, and just right. People quite rightly see it as a scary thing.”

What’s especially scary is that somebody who’s smart enough to amass a multi-billion dollar fortune would be dumb enough to believe that “global warming” is such a problem that he, acting alone, would need to alter our planetary ecosystem to supposedly combat it. And there’s really nothing the rest of us non-billionaires could do about it.

It’s about time for a little humility from the environmental left. As Joshua Green writes in a separate article in the same magazine, “in all sorts of ways, it feels like 1977 again.” And indeed, back then, we also had a Democratic president who was certain he could predict the future.

“Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 -- never,” Jimmy Carter told Americans in his 1979 “malaise” speech. “The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now and then reversed as we move through the 1980s, for I am tonight setting the further goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by one-half by the end of the next decade.”

A bold boast. But in reality, by 2007, the United States imported 58 percent of the oil we consumed.

Now, once again, our president is confident he can fix things. “The stimulus alone dumped $167 billion in grants and loan guarantees for clean-energy and other projects onto the Department of Energy, dwarfing its $27 billion annual budget to such a degree that its inspector general frantically warned that the department could buckle under the strain.” Green writes.

Gee -- the government throwing money at a problem? There’s an idea that would be difficult to parody.

There’s no doubt much of that money will be wasted. But at least it won’t be spent to actively destroy our environment, as some of the policies floated in Graeme Wood’s article would.

He writes of the possibility of pumping sulfur dioxide into the air to reflect the sun’s energy away. Of course, doing so would also turn the sky red and, besides, “it’s likely to trigger radical shifts in the climate that would hit the globe unevenly,” Wood notes. But as the puppets in “Team America: World Police” showed, sometimes you have to destroy a place to save it.

As Mr. Burns also said, “What good is money if you can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?” The rest of us can only hope the geo-engineers keep their plans on the drawing board.

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