Here's something you don't see every day: a liberal publication blaming actress Jane Fonda for anything bad.
Yet, although not written by New York Times staffers, the idea that its Sunday magazine would even consider publishing an article blaming Fonda's 1979 movie "The China Syndrome" for global warming is quite shocking.
Authored by "Freakonomics" writers Stephen J. Dubiner and Steven D. Levitt, "The Jane Fonda Effect" stated quite adroitly what many climate change skeptics have been saying for years (emphasis added throughout, h/t Glenn Reynolds):
"The China Syndrome" opened on March 16, 1979. With the no-nukes protest movement in full swing, the movie was attacked by the nuclear industry as an irresponsible act of leftist fear-mongering. Twelve days later, an accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in south-central Pennsylvania.
Michael Douglas, a producer and co-star of the film - he played Fonda's cameraman - watched the T.M.I. accident play out on the real TV news, which interspersed live shots from Pennsylvania with eerily similar scenes from "The China Syndrome." While Fonda was firmly anti-nuke before making the film, Douglas wasn't so dogmatic. Now he was converted on the spot. "It was a religious awakening," he recalled in a recent phone interview. "I felt it was God's hand."
Fonda, meanwhile, became a full-fledged crusader. In a retrospective interview on the DVD edition of "The China Syndrome," she notes with satisfaction that the film helped persuade at least two other men - the father of her then-husband, Tom Hayden, and her future husband, Ted Turner - to turn anti-nuke. "I was ecstatic that it was extremely commercially successful," she said. "You know the expression ‘We had legs'? We became a caterpillar after Three Mile Island."
The T.M.I. accident was, according to a 1979 President's Commission report, "initiated by mechanical malfunctions in the plant and made much worse by a combination of human errors." Although some radiation was released, there was no meltdown through to the other side of the Earth - no "China syndrome" - nor, in fact, did the T.M.I. accident produce any deaths, injuries or significant damage except to the plant itself.
What it did produce, stoked by "The China Syndrome," was a widespread panic. The nuclear industry, already foundering as a result of economic, regulatory and public pressures, halted plans for further expansion. And so, instead of becoming a nation with clean and cheap nuclear energy, as once seemed inevitable, the United States kept building power plants that burned coal and other fossil fuels. Today such plants account for 40 percent of the country's energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions. Anyone hunting for a global-warming villain can't help blaming those power plants - and can't help wondering too about the unintended consequences of Jane Fonda.
Of course, while America was forced by no-nuke activists to build coal-fired power plants, countries around the world thought us Yanks were being foolish:
France, which generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity by nuclear power, seems to think so. So do Belgium (56 percent), Sweden (47 percent) and more than a dozen other countries that generate at least one-fourth of their electricity by nuclear power.
And, 28 years later, many of the same environmentalists who protested against nuclear facilities are now pointing fingers at coal-fired power plants because of the liberal bogeyman of global warming.
Yet, another finger that could be pointed at Fonda besides all the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is today's high oil and gas prices. After all, significantly less oil products would have been used in power plants that use such and homes that burn heating oil if more electricity was generated by nuclear facilities.
So, if you really want to pile on Fonda's foolishness, CO2 is only the beginning.
Regardless, maybe policymakers should look at how much damage was done by poor energy decisions decades ago -- precipitated by alarmist eco-hysteria -- and refuse to be bullied into the same mistakes today by folks like Al Gore who are similarly deluded as Fonda was back then.
Or, is that asking for too much from elected officials?