Next on Oprah: Carbon Confessions and Zombie Troubles

By Lisa Margonelli

3102519316_895127dfc3.jpgLast week internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee apologized for the waste of time and paper he caused by inserting the slashes in web urls back in the early 90's. The CO2nfessional, Mea Carbona -- this particular form of apology needs a name, because it's only a matter of cultural moments before the GREAT QUANTIFICATION begins. And when it does, we'll all be caught up in an actuarial frenzy to determine the carbon price tag of every keystroke, plastic spoon, and ice cream cone of the minutiae we call life... and apologize for them.

Those who fight greenhouse gas regulation are right that this is far more than just legislation--it's a new set of values in both senses of the word. The economists who say carbon taxes or cap and trade are no more than a way to valuating externalities, a "rational" way to fight emissions, are probably not yet imagining how we irrational humans will run with all of this. Like that giant scap plastic vortex swirling in the North Pacific, the culture is quietly agglomerating a sense of the commons, and from that a consciousness of "bad ownership," will develop.

So Berners-Lee was wise to get out in front of the curve once again (the first time was that interweb thingy) and declare his apology. But he wasn't the only one making a CO2nfession last week:  SAP chairman Leo Apotheker  mentioned that the IT industry has the same carbon footprint as the airline industry. And the National Research Council, on a commission from Congress, announced that even the non-carbon pollution costs of fossil fuels are high: as much as 29 cents per gallon for gasoline and between 1/500th of a cent and 12 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity (depending which generator supplies your electricity and what fuel they use.)

What I'd like to see is a TV program (patterned on the Biggest Loser) where companies and individuals fess up to their carbon excesses and try to atone for them with the help of a chirpy Climate Coach. First up I'd nominate the makers of those electricity guzzling appliances that got "Energy Star" ratings undeservedly, and the people who were supposed to be verifying the Energy Star eligibility. What's the sense of taxpayers spending money promoting the Energy Star program if it doesn't stand for anything?
 
My second nomination would be for the movie Zombieland, which makes no claims to being a documentary, but does demonstrate a complete divorce from energy reality. The characters drive a 2003 H2 Hummer for hundreds of miles without ever filling up. (We all agree that zombies are real right?) Assuming they're going 60 mph and getting 10 mpg they should need to fill up every 5 hours and 20 minutes. (The tank holds 32 gallons.) Yet they go through the whole film without explaining how they get gasoline. It's a new age... someone needs to answer for this. I'm hoping Oprah! takes it on.

(Photo: Flickr/net efekt)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/10/next-on-oprah-carbon-confessions-and-zombie-troubles/28921/