Expectant mothers, take note:  if you eat chicken, your newborn son will have a little dick.  Ready to go vegan?

That’s the word from PETA, who advise us that “The latest scientific evidence shows that the sons of pregnant women who consume chicken are more likely to have smaller penises because of a chemical found in the birds’ flesh.”

It’s complete rot, of course.  In fact, the chemical specified — phthalate — is found in all kinds of things we ingest or handle every day, in much higher concentrations than in chicken.  PETA’s claim is pretty much the same as warning prospective mothers to stay out of direct sunlight because the solar wind may mutate their DNA.

Still, if you want to bend someone to your will, and you can’t browbeat, coerce or otherwise compel them to do what they should you want, the best strategy is to scare the living piss out of them.   And telling someone their progeny is going to be short-staffed is a guaranteed bell-ringer:  “Damn, Susan!  Drop that drumstick right now!  Do you want little Seamus to have a dong like a hamster?”

Of course, the scare-them-into-virtue strategy has been tried before without much success.  By now, billions of boys have risked hairy palms, blindness and eternal damnation without much of a qualm, and billions more perfectly nice girls who didn’t save themselves for their husbands have avoided a life of harlotry and venereal disease, but chicken is a lot easier to foreswear than sex.  But how about air conditioning?  Hot tubs?  Blow driers?  Can we live with less of these?  How do we get people to change longstanding behavior “for the good of the planet?”

Note here that most people aren’t frightened by dirty air.  They don’t like it, and will support broad-based and inconvenient measures to improve it, but it doesn’t have that ringing urgency that marshals the all-out efforts of an entire citizenry.  War will do it, but not much else.  And we have so many wars these days — Afghanistan, Iraq, terror, drugs, poverty, and all the rest — that it takes a 9/11 kind of event to really piss us off enough to get behind another one.

This may explain the puzzling acquiescence of respectable scientists to absurd claims put forth by the lunatic fringe of climate warriors, or their silence in the face of absurd posturing (yes, Al, I’m talking to you, with your inane assertion that a storm surge along a dozen miles of coastline is the same thing as a ten-foot rise in sea levels worldwide).

As for a cleaner planet, who’s against it?  Few would argue that pumping millions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere is a good thing, or that we should not take all reasonable measures to curtail it.  But that means finding new sources of energy that are actually practical (wind farms aren’t), getting more efficiency with less dirt from what we have, and yes, making inconvenient sacrifices where appropriate — emphasis on appropriate.  Frankly, sitting in two inches of tepid bathwater isn’t going to do damn-all for anybody, even if everyone does it.

Yet, as some have pointed out, reducing emissions from automobiles by 70% won’t help if, by the time we do it, there are 300% more automobiles on the roads in India and China.  Ditto coal-fired utilities (to charge all those batteries powering the “clean” electric cars), not to mention the emissions from air conditioners, refrigerators, and all the other contributors to that dense pall hanging over Beijing every day.  All we seem to get from the climate-change crowd is an endless series of demands that we change, do without, sweat more, eat local and wear lots of sweaters, when both they and we know that none of these things will make a dent in the real problem.

And the real problem is energy.  If we’re actually going to find new sources of power that will be both sustainable and cheap enough to prevent the globe from plunging into an energy-starved poverty, we’re going to need a lot of money.   We’re going to have to tolerate a lot of failures, because that’s where most research and development will lead, which means a lot of “wasted” money.  And that means that private industry can’t do it by itself.  It can provide the expertise and the ingenuity, but it doesn’t have the capital, and it certainly doesn’t have the tolerance for pain.  Somebody’s going to have to foot the bill.

That somebody is you.   Only a long-term, well-financed and “wasteful” sustained effort will produce the results we need, and only the taxpayers can provide the cash to finance it.  We did it with a very large number of other R&D-intensive efforts, by the way — sooner or later almost all government R&D winds up on the bottom lines of corporate income statements.

But with so many pressing needs for our tax dollars these days, how can we persuade a population of 330 million people to spend trillions of their hard-earned dollars on the uncertain outcomes of energy research and development?

Why, we scare the piss out of them, of course.  Coastal cities will drown.  Droughts will ravage our crops.  Storms will kill millions.  And so on.  And if some of these sounds a little extreme to those well-informed about such things as computer models, statistical flummery and hydrophobic zealotry, well, maybe they give it a pass “for the greater good.”  We are cynical enough to know that we will act against our own best long-term interests — especially at the voting level — if the short-term boodle is enticing enough.  What’s a few little white lies against the future of mankind?

Add to that the primary driver behind any great developmental effort:  greed.  A lot of people are going to make a lot of money, somehow, some way, from whatever emerges as the dominant energy technology.  Those people have been at work for some time, and more are lining up right now, trying their level best to attract the funding they will need to succeed.  They know they won’t get it if you aren’t afraid your lights will go out.

Finally, climate science is its own major industry now.  Twenty-five years ago, no one ever heard of a “climatologist.”  Today they’re as thick as therapists in the suburbs.  Whatever evidence that comes along to cast doubt on their models and predictions is assailed by a deafening din of pseudo-religious outrage:  Deniers!  Non-believers!  Apostates!

That all adds up to a lot of people who have a vested interest in persuading everyone that the planet is doomed unless we listen to them, including politicians who need a feel-good-about-myself cause for their supporters to rally around, and lots of boodle to disperse when the funding for more bird-choppers comes through.   Perhaps we can better understand their reluctance to adopt a more rigorous viewpoint if that same rigor works to their disadvantage.  They might even find the comedy in the assertion that climate change is “settled science” that cannot be questioned.  Science is by its very nature almost never settled; surely a science still in its infancy — if infact not still pre-natal —  has more questions than answers? And if can’t be questioned, how can it be science?

Still, we’re left with the situation as it currently stands.  If people won’t stop killing chickens, you tell them that their children’s dicks will shrink.  If they won’t stop turning on their ACs, you tell them that they’ll drown.  If they won’t eat their spinach, you “nudge” them toward a healthier lifestyle.  Whatever it takes to get them to do the right thing, because it’s for their own good.

Does this really work?  Well, I doubt that chicken consumption will decline in any meaningful way, however much this will disturb the enlightened folks at PETA.  And, for all the anxious breast-beating about glaciers and ice caps, consumers and taxpayers haven’t actually demonstrated much enthusiasm for meaningful energy research, especially if it involves their pocketbooks.  But we do tend to see the climate warriors in a new light, if we know what they are really up to, and no one likes being played for a fool.  There could be a penalty, down the road, for those who lie — and know they lie — because they think their cause justifies it.