If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, is it because Al Gore and a bunch of elderly rockers organized an all-star stadium gala on its behalf? The colossal flopperoo of Live Earth is a heartening reminder there are some things too ridiculous even for global pop culture, and one of them is the Rev. Almer Gortry speaking truth to power ballads.
Why did so few people feel the urge to rock against climate change? Touchingly enough, the organizers put it down to the weather. Dismal TV ratings? "The BBC blamed the poor figures on Saturday's good weather." Sluggish ticket sales for the live events? "Organizers of Live Earth Johannesburg are convinced climate change is to blame for the paltry turn-out at the Coca Cola Dome today. Promoter John Langford claims it snowed last week for the first time in a quarter-century, and the freezing conditions are keeping people away." Too hot to stay in and watch it on TV, too freezing to go out and watch it in person: clearly, climate change is rampaging out of control.
Still, for the brave few who stuck with all 174 hours of Live Al, there was something oddly touching about seeing rock gazillionaires who had flown in by private jet tell Joe Schmoe all the stuff he doesn't need. Your own car? A washer and dryer? Ha. Why can't you take the bus and beat your underwear on the rocks down by the river with the native women all morning long?
As long as we're making environmentally friendly lifestyle suggestions, here's one thing we don't "need": Stadium rock. Amplifiers. Electrified instruments. Entourages. Recorded music. They all add up to one helluva carbon footprint. If we must eschew modernity in the interests of saving the planet, why don't we return to the 19th century and gather round the environmentally friendly acoustic piano and sing fragrant Victorian parlor ballads of an evening? Judging from nosediving CD sales, the public may have already figured that out. At any rate, it seems to be willing to give up on rock'n'roll's mid-20th century business model long before it gives up private automobiles and indoor plumbing.
So how far are the ecochondriacs prepared to take things? In London last week, the Optimum Population Trust called for Britons to have "one child less" because the United Kingdom's "high birthrate is a major factor in the current level of climate change, which can only be combated if families voluntarily limit the number of children they have."
"Climate change is now widely regarded as the biggest problem facing the planet," says Professor John Guillebaud. "We're nearing the point of no return and people are feeling increasingly desperate and helpless. The answer lies in our own hands. ... We have to recognize that the biggest cause of climate change is climate changers — in other words, human beings, in the U.K. as well as abroad." As the professor sees it, having fewer children is "the simplest, quickest and most significant thing any of us could do to leave a sustainable and habitable planet for our children and grandchildren." The best thing we can do for our children is not to have them.
Professor Guillebaud isn't the only one. Just ahead of the Live Earth flopperama, another "rational" man of "science," Professor Chris Rapley, head honcho of the British Antarctic Survey, turned up on the BBC to argue population control is central to the environmental debate.
This is the logical reductio of climate-change fever: throw the baby out to save the bathwater. For a start, look at the "high birthrate" Professor Guillebaud is complaining about: Britain's current fertility rate is about 1.8 children per couple. Replacement rate — i.e., what you need for a stable population staying pretty much exactly the same — is 2.1 children per couple. So the United Kingdom's population is already headed for long-term decline (and would be in much steeper decline without the higher birthrates of immigrant communities). In Europe as a whole, the fertility rate is a little more than 1.3, which is what demographers call "lowest-low" fertility, from which no society in human history has ever recovered. The Spanish, the Italians, the Germans, the Greeks, the Bulgars and Ukrainians will be extinct long before the polar bears or the Antarctic krill or the Latin American three-toed tree sloth or any of the other species these professors want to protect.
How many Englishmen, Scotsmen, Greeks or Italians are around in the year 2050 will have no measurable impact on so-called "climate change." None whatsoever. Having fewer British or Spanish babies will do nothing for the polar bear on the ice floes posing for Al Gore's next documentary. But how many British and Spanish babies are born right now — this year and next year — will certainly have an impact on what Britain and Spain are like in the year 2050. These men of "science" have not called on Niger or Somalia or Afghanistan or Yemen — where women have seven or eight babies — to have one or even six less. Presumably the Optimum Population Trust (a magnificently totalitarian-lite moniker, by the way) feels the average Somali or Afghan has a more eco-friendly carbon footprint, and thus a world with fewer English and more Yemeni will be a more "sustainable and habitable planet for our children and grandchildren."
Well, I guess Professor Guillebaud's grandchildren (assuming he has any) will eventually discover whether he was right about that. Few Westerners are yet as boldly explicit in their anti-humanism, but there is a more general insouciance among these ancient European peoples as they commence, in effect, to vanish from the Earth in an incremental auto-genocide: the Scots and Germans would rather weep for obscure insects on distant continents than for themselves. They agitate for a Live Earth but are indifferent to their own demise.
A few months back, I was at a meeting in Australia on nanotechnology and one of those great boyish scientific gee-whiz types was raving about all the exciting new things that were being developed. Invited to cite an example, he named the self-repairing condom: Hey, how about that? Don't worry if it tears in mid-use, the hardworking nanomunchkins will zip it up again in nanoseconds and you'll be none the wiser. I'm as agog at the marvels of technology as the next chap, but you could hardly ask for a more poignant example of the West's boundless scientific innovation on the brink of ruinous demographic decline. Maybe the world that comes after Western civilization will be more "sustainable," but I doubt it will be more "habitable."
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.