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'Carbon Belch Day' promotes un-green actions

Conservative alliance, which opposes a U.S. carbon tax, is calling for people to pollute on June 12.

Smoke cigars, do a partial load of laundry, drink bottled water, and feel no shame. That's what a campaign against a carbon trading bill is urging.

The latest parody of the proliferation of "green" social-networking sites and eco-friendly events comes via "Carbon Belch Day," a campaign from the conservative alliance that encourages people to pollute as much as possible on June 12.

This carbon calculator encourages ecologically uncouth behavior.
This carbon calculator encourages ecologically uncouth behavior.

So far, more than 140,000 people have signed a petition against "climate alarmism," according to Ron De Jong, spokesman for If the effort attracts half a million people, it would lead to the release of 105 million pounds of carbon a week from this Thursday.

The effort is strong on shock value, yet weak on social networking and Web 2.0 tools, other than its "belch" calculator. There are no real-world events planned, so expect no sea of SUVs clogging freeways, other than the usual weekday bottlenecks.

The point, instead, is a political campaign to get people to oppose the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which would establish a corporate carbon cap-and-trade system, but is already threatened by a promised White House veto.

"Somehow, this bogus idea of environmental indulgences has become accepted as a real and valid way to deal with our carbon guilt," De Jong wrote in an e-mail.

Other popular Grassfire petitions include "Secure our borders" and "Save marriage." Group founder Steve Elliott holds a master's degree in public policy from Regent University, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, which counts many graduates in prominent government positions in Washington, D.C.

The campaign may be a crude attention-getting ploy to which I can be accused of pandering. But its effort seems doomed, swimming against the mainstream tide. Conventional wisdom has shifted to embrace global warming as a near scientific certainty, and, like it or not, popular culture celebrates all things "green."

Even if Lieberman-Warner flops, many experts in the clean-tech sector anticipate a boost as carbon markets expand in the United States, perhaps following the European model, especially as a new administration takes the helm in Washington. Attendees of clean-technology conferences regularly mention the coming carbon markets with the same certainty used to describe melting ice caps.

As carbon trading scales up, however, the next challenge will come as the public grapples with an abstract subject and demands accountability. Personal carbon footprint calculators and offsetting services are hard enough to navigate.

And motivation aside, the "belch" campaign shares a point with which many environmentalists would agree: that promoting fear of climate change could be counterproductive.

Remember the tagline of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth? It was supposed to be "The most terrifying movie you'll ever see." A Time magazine cover last spring warned, "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid."

Apocalyptic headlines and images of drowning polar bears sell, but they make people less motivated to "green" their daily habits, according to Michael Shellenberger, author and co-founder of the progressive Breakthrough Institute.

A study commissioned in 2000 by CNN founder Ted Turner found that the more people learned of the dire consequences of global warming, the less they felt they could do anything about it.

"And people were more likely to say they would buy an SUV to help them through the erratic weather to come rather than support increased CAFE standards," Shellenberger noted at a conference earlier in May.