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Hollywood in Fantasyland

By Dennis Byrne

Among the environmental slogans sprinting across the big screen during the Oscar's paean to Al Gore was this stumper: We can reduce human greenhouse gas emissions to "zero."

I might have read it wrong; it might have said that we can reduce increases in the emissions to zero, which still is utopian silliness at best, or, if it were remotely possible, a formula for global economic disaster.

In any case, it is true. We can eliminate all human global warming emissions--if all 6.7 billion of us on Earth were dead. That way, there'd be no one around exhaling huge quantities of carbon dioxide, reportedly the most ruinous of the greenhouse gases.

Of course, no one is suggesting human annihilation as a solution for global warming; it's just my way of illustrating how splendidly simpleminded, and wrong, the global warming hysteria has progressed, especially among Hollywood critters and their admirers. With Gore winning the best feature-length documentary Oscar--who wudda guessed?--for his polemic, "An Inconvenient Truth," this week's Oscar extravagance seemed more revival meeting, in which the enraptured believers took the "fact" of manmade climate change as an article of given faith. With the appearance of Gore, the Anti-Bush, on stage, I feared for a moment that the entire audience would burst into flames.

We viewers, of course, were invited to join the delirium by going to "Go Green" on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' web site and following the instructions for a more perfect world. I did as told (logged on, that is), where I expected to encounter great, new insights on saving the planet. Instead, I found such 1970s banalities as putting a brick in your toilet tank.

Such advice apparently was evidence that the Oscars had committed the revolutionary act of going green. We were supposed to believe this after watching gas-guzzling stretch limos unload their cargo of stars, poseurs and sycophants onto the red carpet that ushered them into the world's greatest tribute to excess.

Speaking of world-class hypocrisy, it turns out that Gore, while telling the rest of us to turn down our thermostats and the lights, consumes more electricity in a single month than the average American household uses in an entire year. The non-profit, nonpartisan Tennessee Center for Policy Research, checking the public records, found that Gore's mansion last year used 211,000-kilowatt hours of electricity, more than 20 times the national average. Since the release of his "Inconvenient Truth," Gore hasn't bothered inconveniencing himself by turning off a few of his own lights; since then his average monthly electrical consumption, compared with last year's, has increased 15 percent. No, I don't criticize him for living the high life; only that his own opulent lifestyle didn't slow down his lecturing an Oscar audience of reportedly one billion people about their profligacy.

About that one billion people they kept telling us were watching the telecast: That would mean that roughly half the world's TV sets were tuned in, with one out of every seventh person in the world watching. That would mean every person--man, woman, child and infant, including the blind, insane and comatose--in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Poland, Japan, South and North Korea and Venezuela would be watching. So, I asked the Academy for the source of that unbelievable number. Its answer: "We do not know how that number originated. However, the number the Academy typically gives out is 'several hundred million.' The reason for the lack of specificity is the inconsistency of viewership tracking in some countries." But that didn't slow down the likes of Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres from repeatedly asserting that their global warming message was getting to one billion people.

Sadly, a time-honored tribute to the art and science of filmmaking has been hijacked by fanatics and airheads. Instead of strengthening their side of the global warming debate with intelligence discussion--yes, a legitimate one still is underway--they undercut their own credibility by playacting. The fact is, the verdict still is out on whether human activity is warming the Earth toward a "tipping point" from which it never can recover. This isn't like picking an Oscar winner; you don't do science by taking a vote.

As I watched, I wondered: Could any of them have intelligently discussed the findings of Robert Ehrlich, a George Mason University physics professor, that fluctuations in the sun's diffusion waves may explain many temperature records of the last 5.3 million years? Do they know the scientific rebuttal to the theory has to do with whether the rate of temperature rise and the presence of global greenhouse gases can be correlated with the fluctuations? Can they intelligently discuss whether events that occur simultaneously are not in themselves proof that one causes the other?

Have they examined the data well enough to say with certitude that the current temperature comparisons are sound, or whether the base year for the comparison was an atypical, historic low-temperature year, which exaggerates the size of heat increase? Anyone who invests in stock knows the principle: If you want to inflate the value of a stock's increase, compare it to when the stock sold at an historic low.

These are only a few of the points of scientific dispute, which exist no matter how many actors (or scientists, for that matter) say that the debate is over and that "everyone agrees" that we're causing global warming. Of course, I can't blame Hollywood folks for not bothering to examine or intelligently discuss the scientific evidence. Their job, as amply demonstrated at the Oscars, is to jump into formation, like those mindless penguins, and dance to the same tune.

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist.

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