Conventional Wisdom on the Environment

Ben Lieberman /

The Democratic National Convention in Denver endeavored to be “the most environmentally sustainable political convention in modern American history,” according to the convention’s Director of Greening (really) Andrea Robinson. But how much green will all that green end up costing the rest of us?

From recycled tote bags and name tags, to biodegradable balloons, to requirements for organic and locally grown menu items, to hotel key cards made from “sustainably harvested wood,” it was hard for delegates to go through each day without using numerous eco-friendly items. Most pervasive of all were global warming-related measures, such as alternative energy-powered transportation and lighting as well as programs for delegates to buy carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to their trip to Denver.

One wonders how many of these things are sensible steps that justify the costs, as opposed to politically correct fads with little actual merit. But clearly, the gadgets and gimmicks succeeded in making users feel morally superior, with one enthusiastic delegate calling the carbon offsets “sort of an indulgence to pay for your carbon sins.”

Stories about how some of these green programs added to the cost of the convention may have undercut the expected public relations boost, but of course it’s the DNC’s business how it chooses to spend its money. Unfortunately, the message from Denver was not one of freedom of choice. The people who are enthusiastic about green products and technologies are rarely live-and-let-live libertarians content to leave such matters to individual discretion — they usually want to use the federal government to force their preferences on everyone. Indeed, Democratic nominee Barack Obama has already stated that he would “require that 10 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources by the end of my first term,” among other eco-mandates. Of course, the only reason these alternatives need to be mandated in the first place is that they are too expensive to compete otherwise. And the cost of the carbon credits, if ever put into law, would reach hundreds of dollars per person per year.

Maybe scariest of all is the fact that the Republican convention, rather than rejecting this as nonsense and drawing clear distinctions with the Democrats, is to a degree playing “me too” with the green craze.