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Ignoring Political and Economic Science

Yesterday Karol and I took our son, Thomas, to a Cub Scout event at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

After the formal program — the building of a geodesic dome — was over, we visited an exhibit entitled "The Green House."  This exhibit showcases building materials and methods that, compared to more familiar materials and methods, are friendlier to nature.  An example is flooring made from bamboo, a natural material that is plentiful and grows very fast.

Before I go on, I must be explicit that I have long been skeptical of "green."  Unlike "green" folks, I am not especially inspired by nature.  Yes, often nature is pretty and soothing to visit.  But to get my blood pumping with excitement and awe you must show me a cityscape — Manhattan’s skyline, above all — and not forests or mountains or beaches.  My tastes run decidedly in favor of those amenities of civilization that allow me to escape nature.  So the reason I am skeptical of "green" is that "green" people, more and more, seem to elevate their taste for nature into a moral proposition — which, because I don’t share their taste for nature, causes them to regard me and others like me as morally deficient.

Nevertheless, when visiting "Green House" I was impressed with the ingenuity that entrepreneurs, architects, and home builders pour into making houses more energy-efficient and even cleaner than are traditional homes.

But at the exhibit’s end, a sign caught my attention and made me wince.   I quote the sign in full:

Vote to conserve wilderness areas and support one of the 240 anti-sprawl initiatives across America

This little political advertisement is more than mildly annoying because it appears as part of an exhibit that is largely scientific — that is, one that presents objective and very interesting evidence of non-traditional home-building methods and materials.  And yet the above statement is wholly unscientific; there’s nothing objective about it beyond its claim that there are now, across America, about 240 "initiatives" that some people identify as "anti-sprawl."

But will most, some, any of these initiatives, if enacted, really prevent "sprawl"?  Will most, some, any of these initiatives — even if they do prevent further "sprawl" — have an impact on the environment that is, on net, positive?  And will most, some, any of these initiatives — even if they do have a net-positive impact on the environment — be worthwhile?

The above questions not only are legitimate, they are minimally necessary to ask and to answer reasonably.

To descend suddenly from an interesting and (largely) objective display about non-traditional building methods and materials into a grotesquely presumptuous political command meant to appear as if it follows naturally from the rest of the exhibit is jarring and obnoxious.


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