If climate change is an existential threat, should the government ban yachts, mansions, Disney cruises, Disney World, and green phonies?
In 2021, the Disney Company issued its 183-page Corporate Social Responsibility Report, which included a section on environmental sustainability. Disney CEO Bob Iger is currently having a superyacht built for himself that is 210 feet long, or 30 feet longer than his first yacht.
In 2022, Amazon, Inc. issued an 83-page Sustainability Report. At the time, Amazon Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos was having his 417-foot superyacht built, along with a 246-foot support vessel with a helipad. The superyacht is a sailing ship but no doubt has diesel backup engines and generators.
The amount of fossil fuel required to build and operate these toys is staggering. Just as staggering is the phoniness, hypocrisy, and double standards of these two smug guys and their smug companies. The same for all the other big companies and bigwigs of similar ilk.
It’s not just the wealthy who are deserving of criticism. Also deserving are average folks who virtue signal about being green but are anything but. This might apply to me, too, but I’d be the last to know.
Is human-caused climate change a threat to human existence? Probably not. Is it a serious problem with potentially dire consequences? Probably so. A case can be made either way given the uncertainties.
For sure, there are flaws in the climate models, there is hyperbole and hysteria surrounding the subject of climate change, there is some validity to some of the arguments of so-called climate deniers, and there is a lot of truth to the contention that most of the steps being taken to ameliorate the problem will have negligible if any effects on either CO2 emissions or climate.
Having once headed an influential environmental group in Northern New Jersey and other parts of metro New York, I know something about how environmental facts are distorted by politics, public opinion, and media coverage.
The purpose of this commentary is not to give a tutorial on what I learned from that experience or to debate the seriousness of climate change. Rather, it is to raise ethical, philosophical, and regulatory questions.
Let’s assume for discussion purposes that climate change is an existential threat, or at least a very serious problem affecting the health and welfare of Homo sapiens and the survivability of other species‒as Disney’s and Amazon’s corporate reports on sustainability suggest.
Do Iger and Bezos have the right under that assumption to generate staggering amounts of carbon for their boating pleasure and egos? Would the moral calculus change if there were a carbon tax that resulted in them paying a steep tax on their superyachts?
How about owning multiple mansions in which a massive amount of energy was expended in their construction and continues to be expended for heating and cooling? Is there something morally suspect about Donald Trump’s Mar a Lago estate having 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces, and a 20,000 square-foot ballroom? How about Oprah Winfrey’s six or so mansions? And on a much smaller scale, is it justifiable for Barack and Michelle Obama to live in a house with seven bedrooms and eight and one-half bathrooms on 29 acres in Martha’s Vineyard?
It’s relatively easy to make moral judgments about the rich, famous, and powerful. But it’s not so easy when the questions come closer to home and become personal.
For example, my wife and I live in a 2,200-square-foot house in the fragile, dry, hot desert of Tucson, a house that is about twice as large as our childhood homes. Do the two of us need that many square feet? Do the home’s solar panels give us a pass from such uncomfortable questions?
Keep in mind the context in which these questions are being asked: the health, welfare, and survivability of Homo sapiens and other species. Wouldn’t downsizing to a home half the size be a small price to pay?
How about Americans emitting tons of carbon to fly to Disney World, a place that consumes massive amounts of energy? Or how about cruises on a Disney ship or another huge cruise ship? Would these be too much to give up to save the planet?
Then there is the matter of humongous pickup trucks and SUV’s. Are these essential for a good life?
Similar questions can be asked about electric cars and trucks that accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds. After all, the environmental benefits of an EV are canceled by the huge batteries and their mined minerals that are required to attain such acceleration.
On a related note, Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins recently opined on the environmental advantages of hybrid cars like the Prius. He wrote that a wheelbarrow full of rare earth and lithium can power either one battery-powered car or over 90 hybrids. He went on to write, “The same battery minerals in one Tesla can theoretically supply 37 times as much emissions reduction when distributed over a fleet of Priuses.”
Then there is this most personal and controversial question: Considering the amount of fossil fuel required to make fertilizer for crops for human and animal consumption, and considering the amount of fossil fuel required to harvest, process, package, and transport food to supermarkets and your table, is overeating environmentally irresponsible? If so, there is a lot of irresponsibility in America, given that 41 percent of Americans are obese and a much higher percentage are overweight.
In summary, the superyachts of Iger and Bezos are just the tip of an iceberg of green phoniness and hypocrisy, an iceberg that extends down into the lower classes. Still, it would be particularly satisfying to see the two superyachts hit the iceberg and sink–metaphorically speaking, of course.
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.