Global Warming: The Rich Opt Out

Noted with interest: the very rich people are indifferent to climate change, global warming and the exhaustion of natural resources. Kyoto? What's that? The new report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? Never heard of it. The upcoming meeting of the world's energy ministers in Bali? Makes no difference to me. Where's my private jet?

The rich have decided to opt out of global warming and its effects. That's for the little people, as the following from the Wall Street Journal illustrates:

The American Southeast has been suffering from one of its worst droughts in years. But you wouldn't know it from looking at the emerald-green estates of Palm Beach.

There, despite water restrictions and low reservoirs, lush lawns and verdant hedges line the Florida island's biggest mansions, awaiting the start of the annual winter "season" after Thanksgiving.

Consider Nelson Peltz. The investor and food magnate's oceanfront estate, called Montsorrel, is among the island's biggest water consumers. His 13.8-acre spread, which combines two properties, used not quite 21 million gallons of water over the past 12 months--or about 57,000 gallons a day on average--at a cost of more than $50,000, according to records obtained from the local water utility.

The paper has calculated that the average little person's use is 54,000 gallons per year. Hence Peltz uses 352 times as many gallons of water as the wee people do. But isn't that fair, considering that he makes at least 352 times as much money as the rest of us?

In Atlanta, where drought conditions are yet more critical than in Florida, there were reports of other richies sloshing in H&sub20 as ordinary people watched their gardens dry up. One man in Atlanta, living alone in his mansion, where there are seven bathrooms, was recorded as using sixty times more water than his neighbors--this in a city that could run out of drinking water in three or four months.

The authorities, ever deferential to those who have too much already, are not inclined to make an example of such people. Yet the rich are held up to us as having achieved that ever more hackneyed American Dream, as the people we ought to emulate. If it ends up that they are the only people who have drinking water, not to mention full swimming pools, we ought to emulate 'em, and after we have finished emulatin' 'em, somebody go fetch a rope.

In any sane society Peltz would be charged a dollar for every gallon over 54,000, the average usage, which would work to a fine of more than $20 million. With guys like Peltz, even that sum may not be enough to get him to turn off the tap when he's finished shaving.

Peltz's behavior provides a clue to why the months and years pass by and nothing is done to save our environmental future from any number of not-yet-understood catastrophes. The rich have simply opted out. Obviously, they figure that with their corps of guards and gardeners, they will continue to have their own private environment--and, such being the case, there is certainly no reason to put restrictions on destructive practices.

Apparently, without their say-so we are not to do much of anything to save ourselves. Not only do they control the government on these matters but every time a proposal is made, they say no, it's bad for the economy, and if you go ahead with it we'll take your jobs away. Great. If we try to protect ourselves, our livelihoods are gone; if we don't, our children's lives are gone.

As we ponder that predicament, the American Meteorological Society is having kittens over the new 2007 data on the arctic and Greenland ice and glacier melts. The new numbers are worse than the models predicted, and the climatologists would be in a state of shock if they were given to such reactions.

Is Al Gore the only prominent, wealthy person on this planet to yowl, scream, shout and ring the tocsins of alarm? Yes, probably. The slogan of the hour is "Don't do something, just stand there."

Nicholas von Hoffman is the author of A Devil's Dictionary of Business, now in paperback. He is a Pulitzer Prize losing author of thirteen books, including Citizen Cohn, and a columnist for the New York Observer.

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