The Public Policy

Rush-Defying Thought Experiments

What planet does Andrew Revkin live on?

By 10.28.09

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Fresh from controversial, unuttered racist remarks that spurred sports businessman Dave Checketts to drop him from his bid to buy the NFL's St. Louis Rams, talk radio magnate Rush Limbaugh last week steamed environoiacs with a riff about New York Times global warming alarmist Andrew Revkin.

The king of EIB expounded on a theme suggested by the editors of Investor's Business Daily, who wondered -- based upon Revkin's comments at conference panel discussion about "the population part of the climate and energy challenge" -- whether we are headed toward a "cap-and-trade for babies." Revkin explained his remarks at his "Dot Earth" blog:

So I mused on whether the next logical step, in a world increasingly fixated with carbon markets, would be carbon credits for avoided kids. This is something particularly relevant in the United States, which -- nearly unique for rich countries -- has a fast-growing population and very high rates of emissions per person….

As I put it…: "Should you get credit -- if we're going to become carbon-centric -- for having a one-child family when you could have had two or three. And obviously it's just a thought experiment, but it raises some interesting questions about all this."

It's just unfathomable to propose carbon credits for avoided children, if we are to believe Revkin. Too radical an idea for him, you know…heh, heh…but hey, somebody else might just propose it! It's just a "thought experiment."

And what a beaker in that brain! To come up with such crackpottery you need to start with the following premises: that CO2 is pollution rather than a life-giving gas; that human-generated CO2 is more destructive than that of the rest of the mammal population; and because of the first two premises, a reduction in the number of humans is needed to solve the "pollution" problem. While The Amazing Revkin may dismiss the last idea as a mind exercise, he certainly embraces the first two principles. In fact, he's written books that support the idea.

That's where Rush comes in. After a long monologue Tuesday about the philosophical beliefs about overpopulation by environmentalists, including some in the Obama administration, the battered (by some) yet beloved (by others) talk host said:

This guy from the New York Times, if he really thinks that humanity is destroying the planet, humanity is destroying the climate, that human beings in their natural existence are going to cause the extinction of life on earth, Andrew Revkin, Mr. Revkin, why don't you just go kill yourself and help the planet by dying?

Isolating that out of context, as Media Matters for America and the Center for Environmental Journalism's Tom Yulsman intentionally did, and you've got red meat remarks for leftists. But Limbaugh's point was simply an "align your actions with your beliefs" challenge -- part of a long monologue -- to hypocritical environmental activists:

See, liberals always come up with these laws, these plans, these solutions, and they're always for everybody else. You go and limit the number of kids you have. You go drive a Yugo. You go get rid of your big house. You go turn your thermostat up or down, you go do this, you go do that….

If I may get serious with you for a moment, the left, if you believe them, believes that there's one species on the planet destroying it. Now, all mammals exhale carbon dioxide. But somehow only man, only human beings' carbon dioxide is destroying the planet. It's only man in all of his endeavors, particularly Capitalist Man, Western Culture man. Those are the culprits! We are the real culprits. We are destroying the planet. We are the one species on the planet that's destroying it.

While Revkin hoped Limbaugh's "kill yourself" suggestion was itself a "thought experiment," the Times reporter gave other evidence that his own views on child cutbacks were more than just an idea. For example, Revkin's response characterized a Worldwatch Institute blog post as an appropriate context for his statements:

At a Wilson Center discussion on Wednesday, New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin considered this idea and stated that having fewer children was one of the best ways that individuals could reduce their carbon footprints. Humans reproduce exponentially, and having two children instead of three could reduce energy consumption that would otherwise occur for generations.

Was it just an idea, or something more? Then there's this nugget from Revkin in September:

I recently raised the question of whether this means we'll soon see a market in baby-avoidance carbon credits similar to efforts to sell CO2 credits for avoiding deforestation. This is purely a thought experiment, not a proposal. But the issue is one that is rarely discussed in climate treaty talks or in debates over United States climate legislation. If anything, the population-climate question is more pressing in the United States than in developing countries, given the high per-capita carbon dioxide emissions here and the rate of population growth. If giving women a way to limit family size is such a cheap win for emissions, why isn't it in the mix?

Conclusion: Revkin may have a lot of thought experiments, but he sure is pushy about them. 

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.