Going through the trouble of getting my smog check this weekend reminded me of one of my pet peeves in politics: wealthy environmentalists feeling moral about themselves while others (primarily the poor) pay the burden.
Here in California, in order to register your car you have to get a smog check every two years. They typically start around $50/car and go up from there, depending on the size of the car. However, if your car has the ‘service engine soon’ light on, for any reason, it will not pass smog. No ifs ands or buts. On top of that, if you are lucky enough to get your car serviced, thereby removing the ‘service engine soon’ light, you still can’t smog your car…you have to drive it around for a few days, under different conditions, for atleast 20 miles before you even have a chance to pass smog.
Luckily for me, I can pay my mechanic (a family friend) to drive to San Diego and replace the part needed to remove the ‘service engine soon’ light. But I am reminded of how difficult and terrifying this situation was when I didn’t have that luxury. When I was growing up, I had (like most of my friends and neighbors) a cheap, used, beat up, automobile, and the thought of having to pay the cost of bringing it up to smog was terrifying. Most of the time we would simply buy off the smog check operator. Giving him $50 on top of the smog fee to get him to do what was needed to ‘pass’ the car. California has gotten smarter about that and I hear now, it’s near impossible to fake a ‘pass’ on smog (though I haven’t needed to try). So if you have an old, beat up, car that you use to get to work and pick up your groceries with, one that is vital to your parenting, income and free time, and and it doesn’t pass smog – too bad for you (don’t get me started on the ‘assistance’ offered either), it’s time to take the bus (and even here, environmentalists will cheer, as greater use of buses is encouraged). Yet, how many rich environmentalists do you think would even have to deal with a smog check problem?
The smog check is just a minor reminder of environmentalism in general: it is a luxury of the rich. The richer you are, the more you can afford to be an environmentalist. Whether we are talking about environmental land regulations, emission regulations, a gas tax, or any other contentious environmental issue, the costs are usually disproportionately paid for by the poor.
Nothing demonstrates this better than looking at the trends in global poverty and environmentalism. David Friedman writes:
For someone in favor of helping poor people, the economic development of China and India is arguably the best news of the past fifty years. Development was, after all, the explicit goal of foreign economic aid, development planning, a variety of programs in the post-war period that were supposed to lift the third world out of poverty–and didn’t. The fact that more than two billion people are now in the process of moving from extreme poverty towards the sort of life westerners have long lived represents an enormous improvement in the condition of the world’s poor.
It also represents a sharp increase in the consumption of depletable resources and production of carbon dioxide.
Take China as an example, a country where millions of people are moving out of poverty yearly. Great news for those interested in poverty. But bad news for environmentalism, as China moving from rural agricultural society to urban industrialized society means they will burn alot more coal (coal being one of the cheapest sources of energy), thereby increasing the production of carbon dioxide. Some environmentalists, seeing the contradiction try to get around it by making an argument that the environmental impact affects China (and poor areas in general) the most, but this pales in comparison to the economic impact that environmental regulations would impose. Economic development, in many inherent ways, is really at odds with environmental development.
Of course this means nothing to the wealthy environmentalists living in the comfort of the wealthiest countries in the world. Being outside the realm of absolute poverty gives them the luxury to be environmentalists and pontificate on the ‘evils’ of global warming. People in China on the other hand, are more concerned with feeding their children and reaching the standard of living that we in the west have long enjoyed.
The same general pattern applies here in the United States. The higher up on the income ladder you are, the more you can afford to be an environmentalist, and the rest of us have to hear your moral tripe and – worst of all – pay for it.