“Hello”: An Energy and Emissions Lesson From Uncle Leo

Len Lesser, Uncle Leo of Seinfeld fame, died yesterday, February 16, 2011, age 88.  “The Bookstore”, season 9 episode 17 for those of you following along at home, presents a scenario that mirrors the CO2 situation before the US Congress presently.  Lisa Jackson, US EPA Administrator, is tasked with defending the EPA’s ability to regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act as determined by the US Supreme Court in 2007.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle are concerned with the economic impact of regulating CO2.  Given the weak state of the economy, politicians are hesitant to act, as CO2 regulation is a cost today for a benefit tomorrow.  The population of tomorrow that benefits is not the same population paying the cost today.  The population paying the cost today plays a role in the continuation of a politician's career.  The Economist commented on the situation saying, “Congress’s intention in discussing global warming is no longer legislating, but electioneering.”

Congressmen Fred Upton, Michigan, and Joe Barton, Texas, have been instrumental in the push against CO2 regulation.  Richard Black for the BBC and Ciaran Hogg for Justmeans both cover last week's exchange in detail.  Upton, Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, concretely stated the problem saying, "hese regulations go after emissions of carbon dioxide, the unavoidable byproduct of using the coal, oil and natural gas that provides this nation with 85% of its energy use."  The use of coal, oil, and natural gas, while dominate today, is not unavoidable.

In the Seinfeld episode George slips into the restroom with an un-purchased book to umm... release “emissions”.  Meanwhile Jerry witnesses Uncle Leo shoplifting from the bookstore in front of a sign that reads “Bathroom Not Bookroom”.  Given the depth of Jerry and George’s friendship, Jerry presumably knew that George would take a book in with him.  Did Jerry choose to draw attention to Uncle Leo instead of George?  Who do politicians choose to help?  Rather than saying “hello” Jerry asks store security to scare Uncle Leo but store security has Uncle Leo arrested.  Despite the distraction, George, being George, emerges from the “Bookroom” directly in front of a store employee and is required to purchase the book.  Being required to purchase the book equates to paying for CO2 emissions.

Upton and George may both feel that emissions are somehow separate from the environment.  The bookstore policy follows the findings of science, emissions pollute the environment.  George is unable to return the book as it has been flagged and must accept the cost of his emissions.  Would it help you recognize a polluter after the act if they were flagged?

Uncle Leo isn’t innocent but neither is the global population.  As consumers, all our needs and wants contribute to the release of CO2.  Jerry wanted to scare Uncle Leo straight.  Scaring the population straight does nothing if politicians “electioneer” a wall to protect the polluters.

What if Jerry had said “hello” to Uncle Leo rather than ratting him out to store security?  The happy ending would be the opening of dialogue between disparate parties resulting in an understanding of each position rather than a divisive and subjective distinction of right and wrong.  Maybe Seinfeld wasn’t a show about “nothing” after all.

Photo Credit: Mio Miranda