Harvesting History: Farmer Activism is Democracy’s Early Warning System

By Nick Deiuliis

Elites have a long history of looking down on and patronizing the working classes. It’s a sad social truth that extends back to America’s founding. Europe’s history of confrontation between the two classes stretches back centuries.

Today’s elites labeling the working class as Deplorables, Flyover Country, and Bible-and-Gun-Clingers is nothing new. It seems the more things change in America and Europe the more they stay the same.

You see the self-perpetuating dynamic with perhaps the original working-class demographic: farmers.

One of America’s first confrontations between the working class and elites was western Pennsylvania farmers initiating the Whiskey Rebellion during George Washington’s presidency. Indeed, farmers have a proud history of being first within the working class to confront excessive government control and elites looking to disenfranchise citizens.

And true to form, farmers across Europe are once again raising the alarm for the rest of society when it comes to loss of individual rights and constriction of liberty. Because the Left, the radical environmental theocracy, and the bureaucrat just can’t stop messing with society’s doers.

With so much at stake, a refresh of farmers’ movements in the United States and a discussion of the current farmers’ uprising in Europe is warranted.

American Farmers: A History of Political Activism

The latter half of the 1800s saw American farmers achieve a new, higher level of political activism that had national implications lasting to this day.1 It all started with disruptive technology.

The 19th century brought unprecedented economic advancement and groundbreaking technology, combining to drastically affect industry and agriculture. Steamships and railroads were game changers.

Along with new, advanced machinery and growing foreign trade, they disrupted everything across the American economy, from the factory floor to the farm field.

But net-net, manufacturing and urban areas benefited much more from the innovation and economic revolution than agriculture and rural areas. The individual farmer and small town were especially hard hit. Cities got bigger, industry became more profitable, but individual farmers found themselves struggling more.

Despite the innovations, farming still lacked scale. And competition was global when it came to demand and pricing for crops. Farmers were affected by global developments out of their control for revenue but had costs set by an inefficient local or regional market. The worst of both worlds created a financial pinch of low, at-risk revenue and high cost.

Adding to the farmer’s difficulty was a reliance on credit and a run-up in debt. As well as having to carry the risks of crop storage and transportation, lease rents for land, and speculators preying on micro-markets.

Indeed, the American farmer was facing seemingly impenetrable headwinds in the latter half of the 1800s.

Farmers decided it was time to unite and become activists to support their cause. Initially they looked to the labor movement in larger cities as the model to follow. The industrial labor unions were posting some impressive successes, so why not copy the playbook?

But farming is not the same as, say, coal mining or steelmaking. Thus, farmers quickly realized they would need their own brand of activism.

Just after the Civil War, the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grange, appeared in the rural South and West.

It was the first national political movement for farmers—focused on setting rate caps on rail rates, which were a key point of contention and major financial risk for farmers in the South and West. The organization is alive and well today, with a Washington, D.C. headquarters and roughly 1,700 local chapters across America’s farming communities.

I feed you all!” lithograph by American Oleograph Co., Milwaukee, 1875.
(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

After the Grange came the Greenback Party, focusing on addressing the problems of currency and inflation that troubled farmers. The party advocated for a break from the gold standard, fiat money, and a cheaper dollar, reflecting aspects of today’s modern monetary theory, or MMT. It was hoped that such an approach would grow farm revenue while making debt more manageable.2

Although the Greenback Party ran presidential candidates over three national elections (1876, 1880, and 1884), it wasn’t very successful politically. But it was quite successful in calling attention to the shortcomings of the US monetary system.

Around the same time of the Greenback Party, the Farmers Alliances in the Northwest and South were created. The idea was to unite farmers, becoming a force in established party politics and taking on the Gilded Age. The Southern Alliance focused on commandeering the dominant Democratic Party by electing candidates to run for state offices and for Congress. While in the Northwest, the Farmers Alliance started to behave as a separate third party that was populist.

The fourth and most impactful farmers movement was the Populists, centered in the West and also having support in the South. It was known as the People’s Party, the Populists, or the Populist Party. Lack of rainfall got things moving as drought devastated farmers in the Plains in the late 1880s and farms began to fail.

Farmers felt that business interests of railroads and bankers were contributing to, and feeding off, their plight and wanted to do something about it. That started a passionate movement, with followers preaching populism. The People’s Party candidate for president, James Weaver, won 22 Electoral College votes in the 1892 election, winning four Western states outright and winning electoral votes in two others. The party eventually merged into the Democratic Party in the next presidential election of 1896.

Although the People’s Party ultimately died, many of its ideas lived on. Subsequent policies in the coming years affecting conservation, trusts, railroads, and banking trace roots back to the populism of the farmers in the late 1800s. Including the creation of the Federal Reserve and many of President Teddy Roosevelt’s positions and accomplishments.

Europe’s Farmers Rise Up in 2024

The American farmer acting up in the late 1800s shares a lineage to European farmers acting up in 2024. Despite over a century and an ocean between the two, the movements have much in common.

Indeed, history is once again rhyming. Because today’s European farmers find themselves under siege by the arrogant elites.

Farmers are protesting across Europe. Spain, UK, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, France, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, and Poland; from Ireland to Romania. It’s become a truly pan-European movement.

Videos populate the internet of tractors and convoys of farming equipment blocking roads. Clips abound of farmers dumping wine and feed in front of government buildings.

And the protestors aren’t just the farmers in these nations, but also organizations that are affiliated with farmers and agriculture. These institutions have joined what was originally a grassroots protest and morphed it into something bigger and better organized. The movements are starting to win elections, from the local to the national, as seen in the Netherlands.

Typical of governments run by elites, the continent’s bureaucracy is making things worse and not listening.

For example, Spain issued thousands of sanctions or violations against citizens under its Orwellian Citizen Security Law (commonly referred to as the Gag Law). Yet Barcelona was still brought to a standstill by the protests. And Spanish farmers dumped wine in front of a municipal water authority to protest water restrictions.

Italy saw 1,600 tractors poised to enter Rome. A Milan protest saw a cow join in the march. Italian farmers were angered by the expiration of an income tax exemption. Italy’s Prime Minister ultimately relented and agreed to not let the exemption expire.

Greece is experiencing protests everywhere, with a major highway to Athens blocked. The Netherlands got things rolling on the continent with the Farmers Citizens Movement.

Germany is an especially interesting case. The government desired to camouflage the cost of climate policies by using pandemic emergency funds to fund its forced energy transition. Nice idea, but the courts deemed it unlawful, reasoning quite correctly that climate change is not Covid. So, the government decided that the climate policies would continue and that the cost would be offset by removing diesel fuel subsidies to German farmers.

Following the increased costs to farmers from all the other climate polices within the German net zero nightmare, the removal of the subsidy was the last straw. It stripped away the pretend veneer of the myth that net zero plans don’t hurt anyone. German farmers reacted; roads were blocked, from Munich to Berlin, and the world viewed images of farm tractors blocking the approach to the iconic Brandenberg Gate in Berlin.

Farmers protest at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Jan. 15, 2024.
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

European politicians are finally paying attention and assuring that they feel for the farmers being victimized by the EU bureaucracy and the elites who run it.

Enter the Spin of the Elites

With the farmer protests undisputedly in plain view for all to see, those looking to divert attention from the root cause jump into spin mode.

Mainstream media and politicians caught off guard by the agrarian working-class protests now blame five root causes for catalyzing these protests: climate policies, inflation, food imports, the urban-rural divide, and economic inequality.

Which is sort of true, but not entirely. Because only the first item, climate change policies, is the true root cause. The remaining four are symptoms of those climate policies. Much like the farmer protestors themselves.

Certainly, the European Green Deal is wreaking havoc on European farmers. One of the primary objectives of climate policies is to make it uneconomic to farm, to provide food, and to eat. At least without government support and approval.

A goal of climate policies is empowering the bureaucrat and the state to dictate what one eats and how much. Under the false flag of saving the planet and the pleasant-sounding optical cloak of ‘sustainable farming.’

Farmers understand climate policies will soon eradicate them, just as such policies initially targeted (and are on their way to eradicating) the fossil fuel industry, power grid, and gasoline-powered cars across Europe. But the farmers aren’t taking this lying down; they refuse to make the same mistakes the complacent domestic energy industry, autoworkers unions, and consumer advocates made when allowing the radical environmental movement to roll over their interests.

What about the other cause of the protests identified by the elites: inflation, food imports, the urban-rural divide, and economic inequality?

Of course, the cost of living and inflation are up. Natural gas costs are up and so is fertilizer cost, which requires natural gas as a feedstock. Farming requires carbon-based energy and products like just about everything else in a modern economy. Thus, if you create energy scarcity while inflating energy costs through climate policies, you do the same for the inputs of farming. Farming soon becomes uneconomic.

The European mainstream media point to inflation and pin it on Russia invading Ukraine, which increased energy costs. Or the media blames drought, caused by (you guessed it) climate change, as raising costs.

Climate policies enabled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and catalyzed general inflation. And yes, somewhere in Europe, right now, there will be drought. And somewhere in Europe, right now, there will be floods. It is a large continent, after all. But change in weather isn’t causing the existential plight of farmers or inflation. Despite media and academic experts wanting it to.

Farmers are hurt by food imports, but that is yet another symptom of climate change policies that dictate who makes and uses what on a global scale. Nations and the private sector within national economies ultimately lose autonomy under all variations of climate policies, from domestic energy industries to the domestic providers of food.

Climate policies are designed to make European-grown food too expensive. Which then has the desired effect of creating food scarcity. The food supply shifts from mostly European to mostly foreign providers, with Europeans now having to look to places like North Africa and Ukraine. Not exactly geopolitically stable places to get your dinner from.

Then there’s the popular elite excuse of the rural-urban divide stoking these protests. Which is ironic.

It’s not that urban elites don’t care about rural citizens. The government bureaucrat and the experts care greatly; the problem is they care about placing the rural, or what we call Flyover Country here in America, in economic chains and assigning them to a life of reliance on the state. Is it any wonder that rural Europeans tend to be more Euroskeptic? They are more astute than the urban elites give them credit for.

And when it comes to economic inequality, that fifth and final excuse proffered by the media as a cause of the farmer protests across Europe, one is hard pressed to think of anything that is a more regressive tax and regressive value appropriator than net zero plans and climate change policies.

Net zero plans radically catalyze income inequality. Like these other red-herring issues, the media wants to label economic inequality as a root cause of the farmer protests. Yet economic inequality is a symptom of the singular, true root cause: climate policies and their net zero scams.

Where Do Farmer Protests Go From Here?

One should be quite optimistic regarding the implications of European farmers standing up for themselves. Wider society stands to benefit three ways.

First, the farmer protests secured shorter-term successes when political leaders in nations such as France and Italy backed off planned moves that would’ve hit farmers disproportionately and that would have increased the cost of food. That’s created an incentive for farmers in other European nations to join the movement. Which is why the protests quickly spread across Europe, why they’ve extended into March and will likely continue. What’s good for the farmer is good for the consumer and the overall economy.

Second, the reaction of the farmers to climate change policies created a deterrent for European politicians and bureaucrats—forcing them to think twice before unleashing additional and similar draconian moves on other sectors of the European economy and society.

As they’ve done for centuries, the farmer has provided a great service to a host of others. This time their resistance and advocacy for common sense has stymied the consequences of climate policies for countless businesses and families.

Third, the farmer protest movement is winning elections, from the local to national level, as seen in the Netherlands. Candidates opposed to economy-killing climate policies trounced leftist parties obsessed about climate change, Code Red, and irreversible state control of the individual.

Despite these realities, a complicit media is still trying to cover for the bureaucrat in Europe. The overwhelming political upheaval and protest by farmers is precipitating a disingenuous discussion about who pays for climate change policies and net zero plans.

Which is nonsensical to debate, because everyone pays for climate change policies and net zero plans in a modern economy. It is not a question about who pays. Instead, it comes down to how transparent will the costs that are being borne by all be brought to light, and how soon.

Do people wake up before reaching the point of no return? Or do the policies become so embedded within an economy and society that it doesn’t matter what happens once society awakens?

European farmers have performed a noble duty for all Europeans. Following a rich history of American farmer movements. Let’s hope the current protests serve as both a moral and economic alarm clock to wake up society to the threat of climate change policies. Before it’s too late.

1. In the 1930s, historian John D. Hicks was a leading voice on populism and farmer movements.
2. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
3. Climate change is nothing new; been happening for millions of years.

Natural Gas Development and Human Health in PA: Let’s Get the Facts Straight

By Nick Deiuliis

Poor policy favors superficial optics and follows manufactured storylines. Sound policy aims for substantive improvement and values rational decisions based on objective data. ​

Today a poor policy path is being promoted to harm a life-sustaining industry, manipulating concerns for human health as a convenient tool. It’s happening in Pennsylvania with its natural gas industry and local communities. ​

A ground game is churning that fabricates a storyline of the natural gas industry hurting residents: causing asthma, causing childhood cancers, and adversely impacting newborns. Making and broadcasting disgusting and baseless accusations to vilify and take down a noble and societally crucial endeavor, and in the process hurting the very region and communities the opportunists claim to work in the interests of.

This past August, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) released the results of its studies on public health impacts from natural gas development in southwestern Pennsylvania. The studies left much to be desired; they suffered from fatal design flaws, many of them self-inflicted.

Yet the studies failed to find causation that would link natural gas development to health problems. The biggest ‘bombshell’ findings were a pair of very weak (and in one case, nonsensical) associations of natural gas development and two discrete health issues. No smoking guns identified.

But the rollout, presentation, and subsequent reporting of the findings (or lack thereof) were staged to garner maximum speculation, innuendo, and debasing of the natural gas industry. An all-too-common occurrence in media and academia today.

Mountain of Evidence Prior to the Pitt Studies

Over the years prior to the recent Pitt studies, substantial research has been conducted by numerous organizations on the impacts of natural gas development on public health. ​ The studies yielded disappointing results for those hoping to link shale development with human health risks: the expected risks have not materialized while efforts to find clear causation of natural gas development on health risks have come up short.

Consider the massive body of scientific work and measurement performed on point prior to this summer.

In the then-largest study of its kind, a 2015 Yale-led investigation found no evidence that trace contamination of organic compounds in drinking water wells near Marcellus shale development in northeastern Pennsylvania came from deep hydraulic fracturing shale horizons, underground storage tanks, well casing failures, or surface waste containment ponds.

The Yale study was followed by a Duke-led effort in 2017 to assess the impacts of natural gas development on groundwater in northern West Virginia. The Duke study concluded that there was a clear indication for the lack of groundwater contamination and subsurface impact from shale-drilling and hydraulic fracturing. And that trace metals associated with potential health impacts also showed no correlation with proximity to shale gas activities. ​

In 2018 the University of Cincinnati assessed the risk of methane making its way into groundwater in the Utica shale region of Ohio. The study found no relationship between methane concentration or source in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites. ​ The study did, however, show a decrease in methane concentration in some regularly monitored wells during the study period. And that pH and conductivity did not change as shale gas drilling increased, nor with distance to the nearest shale gas well. Data did not indicate intrusion of frac fluids. ​ ​ ​

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Health (DOH) were also busy in 2018, conducting studies and issuing reports that concluded Marcellus shale emissions did not exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) limits and that the emissions are not expected to be harmful to healthy citizens. Estimated additional lifetime cancer risks were found to be very low from exposures to chemicals near natural gas activity (average levels of carcinogenic chemicals detected were generally similar to levels typically seen in ambient air in mixed urban, suburban, and rural areas across the US). And significantly fewer Air Quality Index (AQI) days worse than “Good” were measured at a monitoring site near natural gas facilities versus local comparison sites.

Penn State performed a 2018 study of groundwater in rural regions of Pennsylvania (Bradford County) where natural gas development is present. The study found only rare instances of possible gas contamination amid an overall trend of improving water quality despite heavy Marcellus shale development. The Penn State researchers saw possible contamination by natural gas in only 0.5% of the nearly 1,400 shale wells studied in heavily drilled Bradford County. The remaining water chemistry data highlighted that groundwater either improved or remained level from samples taken prior to the 1990s.

“The most interesting thing we discovered was the groundwater chemistry in one of the areas most heavily developed for shale gas – an area with 1400 new gas wells – does not appear to be getting worse with time, and may even be getting better,” said the director of Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute.

2023 Pitt Studies Findings

The recent Pitt studies, spanning years and millions of dollars in expenditures, showed no ‘causation’ and a limited, highly questionable pair of ‘associations’ between natural gas development and two specific health issues. ​

In statistics, it is important to differentiate between ‘association’ and ‘causation.’ Two variables may be associated without a causal relationship. For example, there is a statistical association between the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool and the number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in for a given year (they indeed do show an association when tracked over a specific period of time). However, there is obviously no causal relationship.

Causation, on the other hand, means that the exposure produces the effect.

The Pitt studies found no causation from unconventional shale development to any of the health risks studied. Rather, researchers stretched to find two associations using skewed measurements, atypical definitions, and not attempting to account for key environmental and other factors that have proven demonstrable impacts on health.

The studies relied on a very limited proximity metric which doesn’t identify any exposure pathways, assumes constant emissions, and ignores critical factors like weather, work, air dispersion, lifestyle choices and known existing hazards. In addition, the studies assumed all natural gas wells “are created equal.”

Despite these flaws and limitations, the researchers acknowledged, “No evidence was found to support an association between exposures to [natural gas] activities and other environmental factors and the risk of leukemia, [central nervous system] tumors, and malignant bone tumors, including [Ewing’s Family of Tumors].” An extremely low lymphoma association correlation was found, underscoring the limited methodologies employed.

Asthma exacerbations were not linked with proximity to wells in pad preparation, drilling or hydraulic fracturing phases, regardless of how close wells were to homes or the number of wells nearby. Curiously, the only association claimed was to the natural gas production phase, when little to no activity occurs on the pad and emissions are minimal.

Ironically, Pitt’s own data on asthma in western Pennsylvania show a 50% decline of severe asthma cases between 2014 and 2020, even as natural gas production in the study region increased by over 200%. And across the study period, air quality in the Western Pennsylvania region has generally improved, with PM2.5 particulate matter, an asthma trigger, declining in the eight-county study area to well below NAAQS (EPA). Reviewing the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s “Most Challenging Places to Live with Asthma” informs that no region (including Pittsburgh) with natural gas development falls in the top 20, but Philadelphia, Allentown, and Harrisburg each do.

The Pitt study found birthweights for mothers living close to natural gas facilities remain in the normal healthy range, and no association to other adverse birth outcomes. The average birthweight was within the national average of 2400-4000 grams, and the greatest reduction in birthweight associated with natural gas well exposure was only 0.8% below the average, still well within healthy ranges. The researchers pointed out this “poses little health risks.” Interestingly, the odds of preterm birth were higher for those living with no natural gas activity near the mother’s residence during pregnancy.

Fatal Flaws of the Pitt Studies

The Pitt studies suffer from fundamental limitations in design and methods that, coupled with how the findings were presented to the public, raised anxiety unwarranted by actual data. ​

Researchers never visited shale gas sites, refused opportunities to do so, didn’t take air or water samples, or generate any new, original data or measurements. Statistical speculation trumped actual measurement.

If the researchers had spent time in the field, they would have seen how natural gas development is safe, well-regulated, and produced here better than anywhere else in the world.

In addition, the researchers relied solely upon statistical models and static locational information. They ignored key influential factors like actual emissions, wind, air dispersion, weather patterns, not to mention other potential environmental sources of exposure or outdoor hazards.

In a Question-and-Answer document regarding the research studies, the Pennsylvania DOH cautioned: “Establishing cause-effect relationship in environmental studies is very difficult. In many cases, it is also not generally feasible to be able to gather information on or understand all the possible factors that may impact health such as genetics, other exposures over a lifetime and lifestyle factors that may impact the health outcome in question.”

Consider the finding of association of natural gas development to lymphoma (0.006%-0.0084% association between diagnosis and well location) and no association with other cancers, including Ewing Sarcoma. The researchers primarily relied on the relation of the disease and how close sufferers lived to a fracking facility. Because data was limited to information found on birth certificates, the studies wrongfully assumed people lived at the same address for up to 29 years, while ignoring daily travel to locations like schools and workplaces. Such an approach would be laughable if it were not for the serious issues at hand.

The researchers admit the cancer study did not adequately account for variables the American Cancer Society lists as common lymphoma causes. These include genetic predisposition, infection, and exposure to radiation (such as the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania uranium waste facility where government monitoring has shown higher radiation levels).

The asthma assessment suffered from similar methodology flaws, failing to account for known asthma triggers including indoor and outdoor air pollutants, and refusing to present this data to the public. Nor did Pitt researchers explain why they labeled all asthma exacerbation cases as “severe” when the standard in medical studies is to categorize asthma exacerbation cases as mild, moderate, and severe. Without explanation, researchers broke these medical research norms. ​

The asthma data were limited to information found in medical records. Meaning that while smoking status was accounted for, a child’s exposure to secondhand smoke was not. Other known asthma triggers that were ignored, as identified by the CDC, include indoor and outdoor air pollutants, dust mites, mold, and pests. This leaves a huge gap in the potential other external factors that are known to trigger and exacerbate asthma.

Conflicts and Bias

Fundamental to the credibility of research is that researchers are, in fact, independent and unbiased.

One of the lead researchers for these studies publicly advocated for increasing mandatory setbacks from shale gas activities during a 2021 public forum. Unfortunately, the researcher drew conclusions well before finalizing these studies and chose to advocate for a public policy that is being pushed by anti-energy activists seeking to ban natural gas development.

Consider the money trail to assess who benefits from the baseless speculation that ensues. Little if any new, empirical research was conducted in the studies. Of the $2.584 million in taxpayer funds spent on these studies, $1.5 million went to pay salaries and benefits of the researchers, while another $932,000 went for various, unspecified administrative fees. ​

A concerning lack of transparency stokes more concern about how the study was performed. The researchers failed to adhere to the provisions of the taxpayer-funded contract, which required it to conduct a public forum on at least an annual basis to advise on the status of the ongoing studies and, by extension, gain valuable input from all stakeholders affected by the studies (“On at least an annual basis, the Principal Investigator(s) and study team shall present study progress to date in a public forum in conjunction with the Department.” Section E.2.B (Work Plan) of Attachment 1; Contract number 4400018535). Despite claiming that it would “welcome open and collaborative conversations with the board (External Advisory Board) when we have data to share,” it appears that no open or collaborative conversations were held with the External Advisory Board or interested public stakeholders.

The studies considered proximity to only one potential exposure, unconventional natural gas wells, rather than taking a holistic approach of examining whether other activities or exposures may have contributed to adverse health impacts. For example, the study region hosts two uranium disposal sites which have been demonstrated to have uranium concentrations in groundwater that are 22x higher than the EPA’s maximum concentration limits. Additionally, pesticide exposure has been linked to the development of some cancers, leading credible researchers to examine the presence of treated croplands in proximity to incidents of cancer. Yet, the cancer study did not adequately factor in these or other potential exposures, as well as personal genetic or lifestyle factors that may influence health outcomes.

With respect to asthma, the Pitt researchers excluded residents of the city of Pittsburgh from their study population even though Pittsburgh is within the study region and many of its residents live in proximity to shale gas wells. No rational reason is offered for excluding Pittsburgh residents. But well-established research has shown that the rate of asthma in urban areas is meaningfully higher than the rate in rural settings. By removing Pittsburgh’s population from the study group, including a control population that would be expected to have statistically higher asthma rates, the study skews the findings by failing to draw from the control population in a consistent manner across the study region.

How the Process Works

One must understand the process used in the Pitt studies (and many others like it from across the country) to judge the findings objectively. The reactions of various parties upon the release of the studies provide a window into how this type of research has been co-opted to fulfill predetermined views of the natural gas industry by those opposed to it. ​ The intent is to build a process that functions as a positive feedback loop, with each subsequent link reinforcing the pre-desired outcome or view.

The studies used two primary datasets. First, the researchers access medical information of patients with maladies of concern, in this case childhood cancers, asthma, and birth outcomes. In these medical datasets, a home address is associated with the patient.

Second, researchers use locations of natural gas wells, and dates when they were drilled, hydraulically fractured, and producing. ​

The researchers then determine the strength of the statistical relationship between the home address of the patient and the distance to a well pad (or other natural gas infrastructure of interest such as a compression station).

It’s a simple approach bordering on useless. It will fail to deliver any meaningful insight or solid conclusions beyond innuendo and rank speculation.

That’s why this methodology creates the need to use squishy descriptors such as ‘links’, ‘ties’, and ‘associations,’ but can’t be used to determine basic cause and effect. ​

The study authors say they welcome additional data and research. Yet regulatory agencies conduct extensive studies on actual air quality, radiation, and many other compounds of potential concern from industrial operations, including natural gas development. Environmental, health, and safety professionals at energy companies collect and analyze data regularly to protect their workforce, contractors, host communities and the environment. These extensive datasets are consciously ignored by those predisposed to creating worst-case speculative scenarios.

By design, the public sees only the alarmist headlines.

The reactions to these much-anticipated studies were telling. Some reactions were theatrical and prepared ahead of time (mostly journalists and environmental group bureaucrats with self-serving agendas) while others were raw with emotion emanating from genuine anguish (parents experiencing personal loss and tragedy). All the reactions were carefully commandeered by opportunists to nurture that positive feedback loop.

Constrained by the flaws of the study design, it was impossible to answer the questions of concerned residents, who came away empty-handed without the being told what is causing illnesses. ​

The researchers offered that “this was only the beginning” and “the first step,” both of which are code for justifying millions of dollars in additional expenditures to feed a machine dependent on fear and anxiety.

Media plays a collaborative role in manufacturing the emotion and bias. The news reports were what one commentator notably described as “overwhelmingly sloppy” with headlines, promoting outcomes that weren’t explicit in the studies.1 Many outlets conveyed conclusions not made in the studies, which is unethical, bordering on legally actionable. ​

Consider the following headlines appearing after the town hall presentation:

  • “Study: Asthma severity, rare childhood cancer likelier near gas wells”
  • “Research suggests link between fracking, rare childhood cancers”
  • “A Pennsylvania study suggests links between fracking and asthma, lymphoma in children”
  • “’Is it safe to live here?’: Questions loom at presentation of reports on fracking and health in southwestern Pa.”
  • “Fracking is making Pennsylvanians sick. Lawmakers must act.”

Most headline readers come away with conclusions that the studies did not conclude. Which is the objective of the journalists writing the headlines. Yet compare those headlines to what the studies and researchers stated:

  • “The researchers were unable to say whether the drilling caused the health problems, because the studies weren’t designed to do that.”
  • “But the researchers said they found no association between gas drilling and childhood leukemia, brain and bone cancers.”
  • “Limited evidence existed for a tie between gas extraction and central nervous system tumors.”
  • “But no relationship was found between fracking and leukemia. Similarly, results did not show a link between rare bone cancer and shale gas development that was statistically significant.”
  • “The studies used a retrospective model, which looks back in time at participants’ health instead of tracking patients in real time.”
  • “If you are just looking at the studies and trying to demonstrate some kind of causation, and trying to say that this is the end-all-be-all of the situation, that is not what these studies are designed to do.”

Welcome to modern-day mainstream media, now devoid of ethical standards, in the fields of domestic energy and environment. No wonder that Gallup found only 18% of Americans today have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in newspapers. ​

(1) My personal observation was that the media reporting was “calculatingly curated.”

Jane Says ‘End Fossil Fuels Now’…But Jane’s Addiction Is to Fossil Fuels

The flyer arrived in the mail in early summer. The local speakers series was announcing its lineup of luminaries coming to Pittsburgh for the 2023-2024 season. Jane Fonda was the first guest on the schedule; her short bio mentioned the Jane Fonda Climate PAC.

Reading the brochure and seeing Fonda brought strong emotions.

Fair disclosure: I am not a fan of Jane Fonda’s off-screen antics. Her two-week visit to North Vietnam in 1972, capped with the infamous photos of her perched atop a Hanoi antiaircraft gun and smiling alongside NVA troops, remains a hurtful betrayal of America and its veterans. A shameless, embarrassing bid for attention and publicity.

But…embracing a classic liberal view of individual rights, including freedom of speech, I can’t fault the 85-year-old Fonda for going on the speakers tour. Or for running a political action committee (PAC) to fund politicians that match her ideology and policy leanings.

After all, this is America and it’s a free country, right? Perhaps that’s stretching wishful thinking with the Left running government these days. But call me an optimist.

Interestingly, a few days after the speaker series brochure arrival, I stumbled across an article featuring Fonda in the Wall Street Journal’s style section. It’s one of those features where a series of everyday questions are posed to the celebrity, offering insight into the celebrity’s preferences, likes, and lifestyle. (I’m not a regular reader of the style section, which my fashion sense corroborates).

Realizing Fonda was the guest, I gave a thorough read to the Q&A. Many of her answers in the May interview are riddled with climate change concern and advocacy for climate action. But her answers to the lifestyle and daily routine questions betrayed personal actions in conflict with her environmental talking points.

And once again, I was shocked by the degree of elitist hypocrisy on display, this time from Fonda. With such hypocrisy being a common occurrence these days, one would expect to be desensitized to it by now.

The timing and intersection of brochure and article were sweet serendipity for this energy policy afficionado.

On one end we have Fonda’s approaching speech that, based on the brochure, suggests a discussion on the need to address climate change. And then there’s Fonda’s expose in the Journal chatting up her lifestyle.

It was time to put the celebrity climate talk to the test of the celebrity lifestyle walk.

Jane Says: Climate Action Now!

Fonda clearly considers herself an advocate for the environment and a voice to urge decisive action on climate change. Those themes play prominent in many of her appearances, interviews, and speeches.

She formed the Jane Fonda Climate PAC, a political action committee that gathers donations to fund the campaigns of dozens of politicians who favor extreme environmental ideology and policies.

The organization’s website is professionally done and incudes a five-minute video of Fonda pleading to cut fossil fuel emissions and to end the influence of those evil fossil fuel companies.

She mentions ‘bomb cyclones’ in California. Ironically, she points to the Texas freeze of 2021 and New England blizzards as signs of global warming, err, climate change (isn’t the term ‘climate change’ so much more accommodating to the religion of radical environmentalism than ‘global warming’?).

She implores us to elect leaders who will act with urgency. Especially in America’s biggest cities, which need to move away from fossil fuels immediately. She reminds us that the evil fossil fuel industry never rests and that its lackies in Congress are hard at work planning the next nefarious moves.

Fonda touts her activist street cred across the website (absent is any mention of her Hanoi campaign of 1972). She proudly promotes how she was arrested five times for protesting the government’s inaction on climate change.

She warrants that the Jane Fonda Climate PAC is laser-focused on one goal: doing what it takes to defeat fossil fuel supporters and elect climate champions at all levels of government. She reflects that it is the most important thing she will do in her lifetime.

Of course, the site urges personal aggressive action on climate change, consistent with the typical climate-speak everywhere these days of ‘reaching a stark turning point,’ ‘time is short,’ and ‘the world is ending if we don’t all act ASAP’ (the same climate alarmism we’ve been hearing the last hundred years).

On social media, the Jane Fonda Climate PAC posted a message asking, “Each of us one day will have to answer the question: what did I do to protect the planet…?”1

Jane’s Addiction to Fossil Fuels

That social media post by the Jane Fonda Climate PAC got me thinking: what if the ‘one day’ it referenced was today? How would Fonda’s personal lifestyle today stack up to her rhetoric and lecturing others about the climate crisis and the need to stop using fossil fuels?

That’s where the interview came into play. In it, Fonda happily discusses in detail much of her daily routine and interests.

When one considers the carbon footprint and fossil fuel inputs that come with a day in the life of Jane Fonda, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for the Code Red crowd. Here’s a brief inventory:

  • Fonda says the first thing she does in the morning is play online games. Let’s assume the games2 are played on a smart phone, smart tablet, or computer. All those electronic products carry massive carbon footprints on a life cycle basis, and all need fossil fuels as a necessary input to the manufacturing process. Worse yet, many links of their production chains carry egregious ecological damage and human rights violations in the developing world.
  • Something had to charge those electronic devices to power them. That something would be electricity, which carries a significant carbon footprint and will rely on fossil fuels at some point on a life cycle basis, most often directly. If Fonda plugs in her devices in California, she should know wind and solar power generation require substantial fossil fuel inputs and backup. Plus, California’s grid to this day (and into the future unless blackouts are desired) relies on fossil fuel generation for much of the time and year.

Alright, Fonda is off to a not-so-sustainable start to her day, committing serious climate sin before lunch. But maybe there’s time left in the day to repent and get back on a zero-carbon path to redemption.

However, things on the climate action front go from bad to worse.

  • Fonda works out to stay in shape, which is great. She has a personal trainer who travels to and from Fonda’s home to assist in her workouts. How does that trainer travel to her home? Uh oh. If one assumes the trainer uses a car, that’s going to require fossil fuels.3 If the car is an EV, the fossil fuel inputs and carbon footprint may be worse than a gasoline powered car, because EVs have monster carbon footprints when one breaks down each step of their manufacturing process. And when the trainer charges the EV, it uses the same power generation sources that the smart devises used, which inevitably have carbon footprints and rely on fossil fuels.
  • Fonda says part of her workout regimen includes weights and resistance bands. If the weights are metal, there was surely a carbon footprint and fossil fuel use attached to making them; if the dumbbells are of the plastic or urethane finish style, the carbon footprint is worse, since plastics and polymers require natural gas and petroleum products as feedstocks. And the resistance bands? Goodness, those are typically latex, a chemical! That requires fossil fuels as an input to manufacture.

The carbon math is starting to stack up against Fonda’s preaching. But there is still time to make up lost ground. Let’s see if Fonda’s fashion habits can get her back on track to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

  • Fonda says her closet is big. Which means the large size had a large carbon footprint to construct. And usually, large closets are parts of large residences, another fossil fuel hog when building. The closet (and residence) must be heated, cooled, and lighted. Those things require energy and inevitably fossil fuel-derived and/or -powered energy.
  • Fonda mentions many of her clothes are shiny. Often shiny in clothing equates to materials and coatings that are petroleum sourced. Should’ve stuck with neutral colors and boring materials if looking to save the planet.
  • Fonda’s go-to everyday clothing item is yoga pants. Such apparel is typically made from blends of Lycra spandex, nylon, polyester, or similar light and stretchy synthetic material. All those materials cannot be manufactured without fossil fuels.
  • Fonda, like most of us, has a favorite pair of shoes. For her they are of a fake alligator skin variety. That’s great for the alligators, but ‘fake’ is code for synthetic, as in petroleum based. Does she realize she is walking around with crude oil strapped to her feet?
  • Fonda’s top jewelry item is a pair of gold earrings. Did she understand the unbelievable carbon footprint that gold jewelry demands? Not to mention the murky supply chain of gold and what it means to human rights. They make look great on the ears, but those shiny trinkets increased atmospheric CO2 and might have done much worse to laborers in Africa or China.
  • Fonda has a favorite perfume and uses makeup. The perfume is nothing but a mixture of chemicals, each of which must be painstakingly industrially processed and carries a carbon footprint (along with its distribution and packaging). The cosmetics industry is one of the most carbon-intensive industries, particularly on a per unit basis.

Well, Fonda wanting to feel and look good is more environmentally destructive than we had hoped. Things are starting to look ecologically dire for Fonda’s personal choices. But there is still time to change the highway to climate hell she is on.4 Maybe her dietary choices will save the day…for Fonda and the planet. Let’s see.

  • Fonda adores pizza, especially truffle pizza. Like many, she has a preferred pizzeria. A quick review of the LA establishment’s website shows it is a Neapolitan pizzeria, which means it utilizes a brick/ceramic oven to make the pizzas.5 Guess what those ovens are typically fired with? That’s right, the fossil fuels of wood and/or natural gas. Yikes! And not to mention the fossil fuels burned to get to and from the eatery, to build the restaurant, and to power it.
  • Fonda admits to a guilty pleasure: kosher hotdogs. Oh no. Meat products are the worst when it comes to carbon footprint. It’s hard to believe that someone as passionate about the climate is not vegan.
  • Fonda likes ice cream, and who doesn’t? She particularly is a fan of packaged ice cream bars. Unfortunately, ice cream carries a horrendous carbon footprint in its processing, transport, and refrigeration. Packaged ice cream bars are worse. Really bad choice there when assessing environmental credibility.
  • From time to time, Fonda enjoys an alcohol beverage. Nothing wrong with that. Except her favorite, vodka, cannot be produced or bottled without mining, drilling, and flowing fossil fuels. If one desires a zero-carbon lifestyle, alcohol is verboten.

This is getting ugly. Time for a Hail Mary attempt to salvage Fonda’s lifestyle. How about her travel habits?

  • Fonda’s favorite hotel from past travels is the Ritz in Paris. The feel of the place was magical to her; the sheets, service, food, etc. The Ritz in Paris, and all the over-the-top luxury that embodies it, is one of the most energy intensive service locations in the world. All its excess piles up the carbon emissions and fossil fuel use, especially on a life cycle basis. The establishment must shut down immediately if one believes global fossil fuel use must be cut in half and eventually eradicated.
  • Fonda’s wish list for future travel is to Finland.6 I’m not sure where Fonda calls home(s) these days, I’m guessing she may need to fly to and from Finland. And unless she is spry enough to snowshoe and cross-country ski to the wilderness locations in Finland she wants to visit, her logistics would include ground/snow/ice transport powered by fossil fuels. The best thing for the climate is for Fonda to stay home and skip any travel.

Contrasting the Preaching and the Doing of Climateers

Members of the Code Red crowd who are reading this should be in panic mode by now. It turns out, by Fonda’s own admission, she lives a life that is egregiously carbon intensive and relies extensively on fossil fuels.

I mean, WTF JF.

This individual is a passionate advocate for climate action and keeping fossil fuels in the ground. She says it is the most important thing she will do in her life!

Yet Fonda can’t demonstrate a lifestyle that practices what she preaches. And all of it is arrogantly on full display across national media. Hypocrisy hiding in plain sight, yet a collaborative media refuses to expose the obvious.

The moxie these days of elites such as Jane Fonda. But that moxie provides opportunity to highlight unprecedented hypocrisy when it comes to much of the radical environmental movement these days.

Environmentalism has morphed into a virulent religion of rigid ideology. If the high priests of the movement refuse to practice what they preach, it is up to the rational and logical to call them out.

This commentary is dedicated to those who served in Vietnam.

(1) Jane Fonda Climate PAC post on X, August 7, 2023.
(2) Wordle is Fonda’s game of choice, introduced to her by fellow eco-warrior and celebrity Ted Danson.
(3) Perhaps Fonda lives on a public transportation line, allowing the trainer to travel to and from her home by bus or subway (yeah, I doubt it, too). Such a commute would still carry a substantial carbon footprint, particularly on a per passenger ride basis, as public transportation ridership continues to plummet across the country.
(4) Shout out to UN carnival barker Guterres who quipped, “We are on a highway to climate hell.”
(5) Having family roots from Naples, I consider pizza a food group of its own. I share Fonda’s love for the food. Pizza unites us all! But you can’t enjoy a zero-carbon slice; that’s impossible.
(6) She wants to meet with reindeer herders to find out how climate change is impacting their lives. Celebrities…

A Dose Of Dissidence And A Pinch Of Living In Truth: Remedy For Troubling Times

Today the West struggles under the Left’s tightening grip on the economy, education, individual rights, and nearly all facets of society. Voices from the past who warned of the perils of the threat resonate more than ever; Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman saw it coming.

Yet there is another leading voice who didn’t just see the Left coming, but who also devised a means to escape it. A voice that doesn’t receive near enough attention.

Vaclav Havel.

You may have just read that name and said: Vaclav who? Understandable, because despite his greatness, Havel is largely unknown in America. But lamentable, especially in times like these, with numerous contributions to explore, learn from, and emulate.

Evolving Excellence in Tumultuous Times

Havel was born in Czechoslovakia just prior to World War II, in 1936. He lived an exceptional life.

He was many things: author, poet, playwright, dissident. And ultimately a statesman and leader of his nation(s).1  You might remember him as the poet who rose to the presidency of Czechoslovakia around the time the Berlin Wall came down.

Havel served as the first and last president of Czechoslovakia up to its dissolution. He then became the first president of the Czech Republic, serving for a decade.

But Havel first rose to prominence as a playwright. He utilized an absurdist style of writing to criticize the communist system. After participating in the Prague Spring in 1968, he got blacklisted when the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia and forcibly put down the movement.

Havel became more politically active, and he spent years under government pressure and as a political prisoner; he spent nearly four years in prison during the late 1970s into the early 1980s.

Havel played a key role in the Velvet Revolution that toppled the communists in Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s. He assumed the presidency shortly after. Havel led the charge to undo the Warsaw Pact and grow NATO eastward.

Czechoslovakian citizens flood the streets of Prague during the Velvet Revolution in 1989
Credit: Velvet Revolution Street Museum

Many of his stances ended up controversial domestically; by the end of his political life, he had greater popularity abroad than at home. Havel continued life as a public intellectual after serving in office and until his death in 2011.

The Big Picture

Havel’s views have been labeled many things over the years. Anti-consumerism, humanitarianism, environmentalism, civil activism, and direct democracy activism.

But one Havel theme reigns supreme over all others: the implications of the individual dissident who decides to live within the truth in a post-totalitarian system.

Let’s unpack that.

Havel feared a future where society’s attention would be diverted by consumerism and television (today add reality TV and social media). The distraction would draw individual citizens’ attention away from the substance of public policy and governance. He foresaw today’s crisis of culture and technology: individuals enslaving themselves because they don’t ask who they truly are and what they should be doing. A form of modern dis- or un-freedom.2  

Havel applied first-hand experience to develop his philosophy and construct his plays.

A key example of this dynamic was a friend of Havel’s who worked at a brewery. The employee-friend was smart, knew of ways to improve the brewing process, took pride in his job, and he cared about the product.

But the employee also knew he should keep quiet and his head down in a socialist and communist system. And defer to his superiors at the beer plant. Yet the employee could not help himself. He spoke up with his ideas for improving brewing efficiency and the quality of the beer. That exposed him to the likelihood of negative consequences.

Havel used that experience to illustrate the key concept of ‘living in truth.’

Even though a single, lowly employee within a giant bureaucracy of an organization or collective had little direct connection to the output (beer), the individual fundamentally cared about the quality of the beer and the efficiency of the process. It connected to the essence of who the individual was, even though the employee didn’t own the brewery and wasn’t responsible for the product. He cared because it was core to who he was.

Havel referenced this employee who speaks up as an individual who chooses to live within the truth. And Havel introduced the idea that the employee brewer, or anyone else trapped in a controlling society who chose to live in truth, were dissidents of the system.3  

Enter The Power of the Powerless

In the late 1970s, Havel penned the essay The Power of the Powerless. It is genius, inspiring, thought provoking, and timely.

He used a character in the essay, a greengrocer shopkeeper, to illustrate how one living within a lie might choose instead to live in truth. Making such a transition means becoming a dissident in a post totalitarian system or society.

Havel’s referencing of ‘post-totalitarian’ does not mean that the system is no longer totalitarian. Quite the contrary. He defined a post-totalitarian system as one where every individual is trapped within a dense network of the state’s governing instruments made legitimate by a comprehensive ideology.4   The post-totalitarian system is a secularized religion of coerced decision-making, repression, fear, and self-censorship.

Havel applied his themes using a communist system as backdrop. But the learnings and lessons apply to the West today with the ongoing stifling of individual freedoms by the Left.

The nameless greengrocer hangs a sign in his shop window that says: “Workers of the world, unite!” Yet the greengrocer cared nothing about that famous line from Karl Marx. It was a stock phrase that everyone came to blindly accept and adhere to. It was not unifying or inspiring to the individual in Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s, whether it be the greengrocer in the essay, Havel’s friend who worked in the brewery, or any other typical individual.

By placing the sign in the window, the greengrocer was telling society that he was compliant, that he fit in, and that he was willing to live in the environment defined to him by the post-totalitarian system.

Note the greengrocer used a common, popular phrase to say this instead of stating something more direct, like “I am a sheep and I blindly and obediently follow what the system (i.e., shepherd) tells me to.” The sign explicitly states one thing but implicitly informs of something very different. Yet the greengrocer was able to communicate the implied meaning through his sign without having to explicitly state it.

And the greengrocer is playing into a form of peer pressure, or what within a post-totalitarian system of government or ideology would be considered as indoctrination. He didn’t receive an order by the government to compel him to put that sign in the window. He did it because he saw that others did it too.

Such behavior becomes self-fulfilling and self-determining. The next person who walks past the shop sees the sign, making it more likely that they will then put the same sign up in their home or business. It feeds on itself as a form of auto-indoctrination.

Havel realized some systems are totalitarian not because a single person, a dictator like Hitler or Putin, has total power. Instead, a system or society may be totalitarian because power is shared in a state of collective irresponsibility. Citizens become both supporters and victims of the totalitarian system, individually and collectively deciding to not live in truth. The system or society becomes post-totalitarian.

Havel highlighted freedom may not always be as we think of it, particularly in post-totalitarian societies. In the West freedom is viewed as doing things we are inclined to do. But Havel taught that freedom is contemplating what you should do as an individual and then having the courage to go do that very thing, even though it will risk the ire of the system or society. That’s a deeper, more meaningful, form of freedom.

Comparing Havel’s Eastern Europe in the 1970s and the West of Today

Today’s West is showing symptoms of becoming a post-totalitarian system, one where many individuals refuse to live in truth (and thus live a lie). Worse, those who decide to live in truth are feeling and looking more and more like those dissidents that Havel spoke of.

The first two sentences in The Power of the Powerless read, “A spectre is haunting Eastern Europe. The specter of what in the West is called dissent.” Havel leads with this to set up an explanation of his premise. And indeed, a similar specter is now haunting the West which is increasingly controlled by the Left.

The post-totalitarian system subdues citizens with the drugs of government subsidy and giveaways to the individual. Havel pointed out how government gifts (rent and housing subsidies, etc.) come with a price: surrendering one’s reason, conscience, and responsibility. A core objective of a post-totalitarian ideology is to rip these away from the individual and assign them to a higher authority.

Today the Left in America and Europe provides government handout after handout to individuals. Entitlements, healthcare, student debt forgiveness, corporate subsidy, and so on. In exchange for something quite precious: surrendering the individual’s right to choose for themselves and to live in truth.

Whether it was Havel’s Eastern Europe in the late 1970s or America today, the benefits bestowed upon citizens by a post-totalitarian system are far from free and are the most expensive benefits one might imagine.

That sign in the greengrocer’s shop window, ‘Workers of the world, unite!’, has an eerie analogy today in the West with ‘Climate action now!’ You see those signs everywhere, in large manicured suburban front lawns (ironic), in corporate public relations materials, at over-priced colleges hanging on bulletin boards, and on T-shirts. Are the people who post these signs truly enthusiastic about climate action? Have they given any serious thought as to what the message might mean?

It’s evident that the overwhelming majority are not and have not.

But someone, or something, produced those signs and then distributed them to the greengrocer in Havel’s story or to the suburbanite, corporation, or student in today’s America. The signs go up because everyone is doing it; because that’s the accepted norm within the system. If you don’t sport a sign, there will be consequences. You show the sign to get along in life. It assures you of not being hassled.

Those displaying the sign are telling us something subliminal yet powerful. That the greengrocer then, or the college student today, knows what one must do and how one must behave. And the sign looks to deliver such a message to those in power as well as to fellow citizens.

Such behavior through the signs also implies that the individual is scared, intimidated, and a follower. That’s where the role of the explicit message on the sign comes into play; it provides a salve to the ego of the obedient individual. Because the explicit message demands proactive action: uniting the workers or climate action, both with an exclamation point.

The approach in a post totalitarian system is diabolically genius: it provides an explicit illusion of being moral while the reality underneath makes it easier for the individual to part with his or her morality. And that’s true whether it was for communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1970s with the greengrocer and his workers sign or with the Left running the West today with the student or suburbanite and their climate signs.

Havel illuminated the difference between the objectives of the post-totalitarian system, or government run by the Left, versus the objectives of a meaningful life and the human spirit. There was what he referenced as an abyss between the two.

With the individual’s human spirit, there is a striving and hunger toward variety, choice, individualism, self-determination, and a fulfillment of one’s own potential.

Compare that to the objectives of the post-totalitarian system: forcing individuals into predefined states and a movement toward rigid structure and belief.

That post-totalitarian approach, or the playbook of the Left, forces individualism to be secondary to a blind obedience that drives the system. Individuals are not deemed by the system or the state to be worth much, only inconsequential cogs in the machinery of the post-totalitarian system.

Building and growing the post-totalitarian system generates continual hypocrisy and irony.

  • Government by bureaucracy is called popular government, even though it’s anything but.
  • The middle class becomes enslaved within the system, but that occurs in the name of the middle class.
  • Taking away the freedoms of the individual is in the name of defending the rights of the individual.
  • Denying society information and censoring is labeled as making things transparent, truthful, and accessible.
  • A bureaucrat’s subjective and wide use of power gets labeled as adhering to the law or the Constitution.5
  • Suppressing free speech becomes a way to protect individual rights, including free speech.
  • And punishing scientific thought and the scientific method is to further ‘The Science.’

To propagate the charade in the post-totalitarian system of Havel or with contemporary government run by the Left today in the West, the system must fabricate and contort statistics, data, and history. Climate change is a prime example, with the cherry-picking of statistical datasets for climate models, selectively reporting one set of weather events while ignoring other sets of weather events, and by constantly changing predictions into the future and conveniently ignoring prior predictions that keep proving inaccurate, time and again.

The culmination is the system transforms reality into a ritual of signs and pseudo-reality. Science gets replaced with political science. Objective reality is replaced with religion of the system. Backed by signs and slogans such as ‘climate action now’ and ‘code red.’

It impacts everyone in society, from the lowliest of the working class to the most elite of the educated class. That’s why some of the most educated and successful individuals blindly adhere to ideologies such as extreme environmentalism. The process that the post totalitarian system employs works across all strata of society and all education levels.

There is a psychology at play. People sport the slogans and the signs not looking to persuade others, but instead to conform and contribute to the wider view and objective of reminding people what is expected of them. It’s affirmation of the herd, and subliminally coercing others to comply or face alienation and losing the peaceful lifestyle that comes with obedience. Individuals are conscripted into the system’s effort to assist each other to become obedient; instruments of control and at the same time subjects of control.6

Pivoting to Living in Truth

What happens if the greengrocer decides to pull down the sign in the window or if the homeowner removes the ‘climate action now!’ sign from the suburban yard? What if both start to say what they think, and start following objective truth and what conscience demands?

Perhaps it’s a form of revolt. But Havel defined it as an attempt to live within the truth.

Living within the truth breaks the veneer of the system and exposes it as a manufactured scheme. Living a lie is exposed as just that, living a lie. Like the Wizard of Oz, one finally gets to see what’s behind the optics. Thus, for the post-totalitarian system (or for government run by the Left in the West today), the ultimate fundamental threat to its power will be individuals daring to live in the truth.

Just as there was a cumulative effect that plowed society into living the lie, when an individual chooses to live within the truth, the system runs the risk of teetering and crumbling.

Trust that the post-totalitarian system will react. Today the Left will accuse someone speaking their mind as wanting attention, money, clicks, or notoriety despite none being true. In fact, most individuals who decide to live within the truth have no prior political activity or affinity for politics. They just want to be able to exert their own individual freedoms: to speak, participate, and think.

And freedom to achieve, create value, make decisions for themselves, and utilize energy. Starting to see how climate change and Code Red are foundational tactics of the Left’s post-totalitarian system today?

This is why Havel considered individuals looking to live within the truth in a post-totalitarian system as dissidents. It’s a different connotation than what we typically think of dissident; it’s not so much that the individual proactively acts as a dissident as much as it is the system treats the individual as a dissident.

The media will shun and ignore individuals living in truth. But if the individual speaks freely despite the system looking to suppress them, the views of the dissident living in truth start to stretch beyond immediate circles and start to gain wider traction across society. The individuals in this category start to be known for their thoughts and ideas beyond their respective professions.

That’s how Havel evolved from a renowned poet and playwright into a political leader. He was the ultimate dissident living in truth in a post-totalitarian system.

Individuals living within the truth in a post-totalitarian system are often labelled rebels. But they don’t consider themselves to be. They aren’t rejecting anything. Instead, they are exerting freedom. They are thrown into the situation by a sense of personal responsibility coupled with the times.

And when these individuals say aloud what others are afraid to say or cannot say, dissidents living in the truth become inspiring. Another threat to the system. Especially if the dissident living within the truth jumps from no longer living within the lie and into proactively advocating for the truth, becoming vocal and visible to all.

There is a key difference between the post-totalitarian system of the Left and a dictatorship.

A dictatorship has no need to respect the law. But the post-totalitarian system, or today’s big government of the Left, has great use for the law. It uses the law to create power and to preserve it in the form of control over the individual. Tightly regulating and weaving an intricate web of complexity within the law are useful tactics for the post-totalitarian Left.

What Would Havel Think Today?

Havel, interestingly, considered himself an environmentalist. But environmentalism back then is a far cry from what it is today. No doubt that much of what he exposed of the post-totalitarian system is embedded within today’s extreme environmental movement. One wonders what Havel would think of today’s Code Red and Climate Action Now!

I’d like to believe he would carry the torch of dissidence when it came to the supposed scientific consensus of Climate Action Now!

Let’s follow his lead in the full spirit of living within the truth.


(1) How many people can lay claim to leading two nations in a lifetime? And being the first democratically elected leader of both? And being the last president of one?
(2) For related reading on enslaving and distracting individuals, check out the essay, “When a Blinded 1930s Writer Saw the 2022 Future.”
(3) Dissident had a different meaning within Havel’s philosophy compared to what we typically think of in the West. Read on for an explanation.
(4) As summarized by Havel biographer John Keane.
(5) Hello, Chevron precedent.
(6) Using Havel’s words, “They are both victims of the system and its instruments.”

Venice: A City Connected by Canals…and Carbon

Venice is perhaps the world’s most famous island city, cut off from the mainland. Visitors arriving by plane do not land in Venice proper when disembarking at Marco Polo Airport. Instead, they land across the lagoon and must take a water taxi to get to their destination.

That is where on a recent visit we met a water taxi stand manager who struck up a conversation. The inevitable commentary about weather came up; we were lucky to have the prospect of an awesome summer forecast for the next few days.

The manager commented that climate change was altering the weather and ravaging the city. I asked how she thought Marco Polo managed climate change when he left town and traveled the world on behalf of the Republic of Venice. Her response summed up today’s ideological brainwashing of society by environmentalism: “climate change didn’t exist back then.”

The manager pointed out how Venetians have become quite sustainable when it comes to their carbon footprint. She informed me the city reached its peak carbon footprint not long ago and is on the road to zero carbon.[1] Events in the city increasingly tout how they are net-zero carbon confabs.[2] She suggested we might be visiting the planet’s lowest-carbon-footprint major city.

That got my immediate attention.

I decided while waiting for the water taxi that it was game on for our few days in town. While taking in the sights, people, and food I would also be tallying an unofficial carbon footprint audit of this most unique of cities.

As we said goodbye to the water taxi manager, she asked what we did for a living. My response was half-joke, half-serious and made her laugh: “I work in an industry you’ve been told is part of the problem. But the reality is that without my industry, Venice as you know it would cease to exist.” What I respectfully left out of my response was that the manager’s job, tied directly to tourism and carbon utilization, would also cease to exist.

If You’ve Never Been…

A little background for those who have not had the pleasure of visiting Venice (highly recommended, subject to the advice that follows). The place offers an intensely deep history; but today Venice has become a museum to itself. Everything in the town revolves around tourism and the past.

I heard the horror stories from seasoned travelers. About how crowded the city gets in summer, when a plague of tourists descends off cruise ships and planes to assault the city’s famous sites, as if the visitors were spearheading an amphibious invasion. To some extent that proved accurate, especially at and around the postcard sites of Ponte Rialto and Piazza San Marco. Tourists jam both locations, paying more attention to their smart devices to capture what was around them instead of taking in what was around them.

But there is a fabulously attractive aspect of Venice: walking a hundred yards from the most packed of sites transports you to a quiet, less populated, and unique area. A traveler can go from part of the hordes, to alone with only a few resident Venetians around in less than thirty seconds. And 90% of the city lends itself to the latter vibe, meaning if you invest an hour or so hitting the popular locations, you are then free to wander and immerse in the real Venice (or what is left of it).

I mentioned walking. That is the exclusive travel method once within the city. There are no cars in Venice. Or buses or trucks or motorcycles. Which means there are no streetlights or stop signs. Bikes, scooters, and skateboards are forbidden and, frankly, useless. The only mode of transportation other than feet are gondolas and small motorized water taxis and delivery boats. Which means the pedestrian reigns supreme. One only needs to navigate other pedestrians and the city’s hundreds of footbridges across canals when meandering about.

I mentioned meandering. That is the most accurate description of how one navigates through Venice.

There seems to be an infinite number of ways to go from point A to point B in the city. Which makes every walk an adventure and something new. Maps are nearly useless because of the countless alleys, foot bridges, and canals. One learns early that you iterate a path to the final destination through trial and error. It is not uncommon to turn a corner and see your destination close by but get lost as you turn corners trying to maneuver a path to where you’re headed. It might sound frustrating but does make for great fun.

So, at first blush, Venice appears to have one of the lowest carbon footprints of a major city on the planet. No cars and everyone walking or rowing on water. No wonder Venice and Venetians tend to brag about their sustainability credentials.

But a closer look exposes a different reality.

The Carbon of Venice

Venice is awash in two things: water and carbon utilization. The former is obvious while the latter becomes obvious after reflecting how this city attracts and supports tens of millions of people each year.

Feeding Venice consumes massive amounts of carbon.

It doesn’t hit you at first, but after a few days you realize that all the food and drink being consumed across the city in the thousands of bars and bistros is coming from somewhere off the islands. Agriculture is far from carbon free, with fertilizers and machinery utilizing copious amounts of fossil fuels. Packaging adds to the carbon tally. And the transportation of the food requires diesel and gasoline, whether the mode of transport is truck, boat, train, or plane. If Venice required a zero-carbon footprint for its food, the population would necessarily shrink drastically. And the diet would be severely pared back.

Which brings up the subject of the ‘residents’ of Venice.

In the summer, the population is heavily supplemented by tourists.[3] Those travelers got there by plane, train, boat, bus, and auto. All those modes of transport consume carbon-based fuels for power (and their manufacture). Perhaps travelers went carbon-free for transport once inside the Venetian walls, but the journey to get there and return home was hugely carbon intensive.

Venice worked hard to retain its cultural identity, including the preservation of its architecture. The orange terra cotta tiled roofs make for picturesque sight lines, bringing tourism and economic commerce into the city. Solar panels on historic roofs don’t exactly make for nice photos or appealing vistas. Thus, you don’t see solar panels on Venetian roofs despite a somewhat sunny climate and a more than accommodating regulatory regime with EU energy policy. That means much of the air conditioning, electricity, and heat will be derived from carbon-based power generation, whether it be in Venice or supplied from the Italian mainland.

Locals and tourists walk about the city wearing shoes and clothes derived from petroleum-based polymers and fabrics. Everyone drinking from water bottles and snapping photos from smart devices, with both being made from carbon. And the former being chilled and the latter being charged with carbon. The masses across Venice literally wear and hold their carbon footprints on their feet, backs, and hands.

Carbon is present and necessary for the most famous of Venetian products. Murano glass utilizes a process that is quite carbon intensive. Venetian masks, from the paper mache variety, to the paints and pigments that decorate them, require carbon as an input or feedstock. Whether a tourist buys a cheap knockoff, or the finest handmade versions, they are taking home a souvenir that carries a carbon footprint.

The Venetian Experience Relies on Carbon

The kid in The Sixth Sense memorably remarked that he ‘saw dead people.’ Spending a few days visiting Venice had me seeing carbon. Everywhere and with everyone.

Carbon remains the lifeblood of this city with the historic past that today primarily exists as a window to the past. Venice is not on a road to zero carbon emissions unless its leaders seek urban suicide. For Venice to continue to be a global tourist destination, it will likely have more attributable carbon emissions, not less.

Mandate arrivederci to carbon utilization, and the consequences for Venice and its economy will sadly be dire. As well as for its residents and those wishing to visit.

Again, if you have the opportunity to visit Venice, definitely go for the rich history, culture, and one-of-a-kind experience. Just say “no grazie” to the zero carbon claims.

[1] Similar flawed thinking can be found everywhere. Give a read to Onu Ialia’s “Venice Is One of 30 of the World’s Largest and Most Influential Cities to Have Peaked Greenhouse Gas Emissions” to see how baseless, yet feel-good, pronouncements reinforce a false premise.
[2] For a recent example: “Venice Biennale 2022 Gets Eco Accolade, Winning Carbon Neutrality Status” (James Imam, The Art Newspaper, 12/30/22). Unfortunately, as this essay will detail, a legitimate carbon accounting betrays a carbon footprint for any such event as being quite positive.
[3] The numbers don’t lie: historic central Venice has just over 50,000 permanent residents but attracts over 20 million visitors each year.