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Boulder, Colorado, starts talking about something

It appears that, for all the supererogatory publicity, all the celebrity promotion, all the doomsaying, all the prevarication, the green agenda is breaking on the shoals of reality.

Recently, the (British) Institute of Physics — as Mencius Moldbug wryly comments “only the national physics society of the country that invented physics” — released a statement on the Climategate emails which begins with about as thorough a rebuke as can be imagined from a bureaucratic institution:

The Institute is concerned that, unless the disclosed e-mails are proved to be forgeries or adaptations, worrying implications arise for the integrity of scientific research in this field and for the credibility of the scientific method as practised in this context.

(Emphasis added.) In a word, they are calling into question, not merely a handful of deceitful scientists, but the entire field of climate science.

Meanwhile, even in Boulder, Colorado — a town of which men have japed, with only a touch of exaggeration, that the Commies never captured a more beautiful slice of land — even there, the green machine is laboring mightily where it is not simply sputtering out. This Wall Street Journal report laying out the obstacles Boulder faces to implementing its green agenda, is illuminating, and not without humor.

“City officials never dreamed they’d have to play nanny when they set out in 2006 to make Boulder a role model in the fight against global warming.” Boulder city officials, some may allege, were clearly lacking in an imaginative dream-life.

A University of Colorado (right there in Boulder) professor remarks: “What we’ve found is that for the vast majority of people, it’s exceedingly difficult to get them to do much of anything.” Ah, but citizens of the People’s Republic of Boulder have done plenty — especially when the costs of the doing are obscured by the generosity of the taxpayers. The Journal report adverts to the situation of a woman who received one of the first taxpayer-subsidized home-energy audits, which in turn revealed some four grand of renovations she could undertake to increase efficiency and (what is more) reduce her energy costs. She elected to invest $1,000 on upgrades including new insulation and weather-stripping. No small investment. Three years later, we learn, this woman, who is herself an environmental planner, is disillusioned. The promised savings were not consummated. She speaks of “a big disconnect for most of us.”

The disillusionment is widespread: “Voters county-wide last fall rejected a measure that would have doubled a public fund set up to give homeowners low-interest loans for efficiency upgrades, such as a new furnace.” Boulder voters then crowned that rebuke with one of more sustained democratic import, electing to the city council “several newcomers eager to moderate Boulder’s aggressive environmentalism.”

One of these newcomers owns an art gallery in downtown Boulder. Now, it would be difficult to imagine a line of work less correlated with political conservatism than “art gallery owner in Boulder, Colorado.” And yet this man is defiant in his own particular rebuke to the green nanny state: He keeps his doors open, even with the AC or heat running; and the way he articulates his defiance is striking: “I’m old-school. I’ve always been taught that an open door is the way to invite people in.” In other words, he appeals to an older tradition — in this case of hospitality and basic business savvy.

The greens cling to their hopes, though the reader may suspect some enervation. “The city aims to overcome public inertia with a fresh advertising approach.” Fresh advertising, that’ll do the trick.

The following might function as a summary of Boulder’s dilemma, which, given the elite enthusiasm for the same green agenda across this land, could stand in as a summary of the dilemma of environmentalism as such: “For the most part, those working on the energy-efficiency plan say the public still backs it. The hitch is in getting residents to move from philosophical support to concrete action.”

With this we touch on a tension deep within the American political tradition — by design, according to my reading of that tradition. It is the tension between the high principle, exemplified by stirring rhetoric of the sort our President excels at, which appears to dominate national elections, and the more earthy, rough-and-tumble of the local problems, which move politics at the level of state, county and city government.

When operating on a constituency as enormous and complex as the US national electorate, the potential for that smoothing sophistry which substitutes for reality the wit and charm of the superficial orator is very high. To gain votes a national candidate must appeal to high principle like his life depends on it, even if he has not the first clue how put that principle in practice. Meanwhile, at the local level this legerdemain is not so easy. A candidate for school board can only cover his inadequacies, or the inadequacies of his school district, with lofty rhetoric for so long. A mayoral candidate will likely find himself in hot water if he answers every complaint about high taxes or rising crime with set of common platitudes or a mimicry of famous speeches.

In a word, the potential in national elections is for a lot of lofty talk about nothing; while the decisive tendency toward practical problems, “kitchen table” issues, pressing community affairs, on the local and (less often perhaps, but still commonly enough) the state level, compels politicians to talk repeatedly about something, and answer for their talk.

This tension may suggest the explanation for how even so liberal and green a town as Boulder could get tripped up on the road to the Green Utopia. Boulder more than most American cities is certainly prepared to declare its allegiance to this Utopia; and more than most is willing, to at least a degree, to put this allegiance the test with some real political measures. But those troublesome practical problems, which tend to dissolve the cords by which men and communities bind themselves under the spell of exalted rhetoric, come crashing in, even in Boulder. Local constituencies, pressed constantly by the demands of practical reality, will usually prove less susceptible to the charms of sophistry than the vast, unfathomably huge constituency that is the American electorate as a whole. That whole may well seem to commit itself to the programs and principles of orators whose appeal is tailored to the faculty lounges and university campuses; it may look for all the world, to men drawn from those lounges campuses, like the country has embraced their agenda.

Alas for them, not even Boulder can go on talking so charmingly about nothing as to obscure the hard facts of a green nanny-state that was oversold, whose costs were underestimated and whose benefits exaggerated. Even Boulder must now and then get back to talking about something.

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