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Ignoring Political and Economic Science

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Yesterday Karol and I took our son, Thomas, to a Cub Scout event at the National Building Museum [2] in Washington, DC.

After the formal program — the building of a geodesic dome — was over, we visited an exhibit entitled "The Green House [3]."  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.