About a year ago I wrote a post to poke fun at the World Health Organization wanting to control, well, flatulence. The whole thing should be funny. Even the founding fathers enjoyed a good fart joke. It is an unavoidable consequence of higher mammalian life. Which is the source of the humor – it is embarrassing and uncomfortable, but also perfectly natural. That tension is the perfect point for humor. But Oh No – California has gone and taken up this silly dare from the WHO. That’s right Americans – California is officially in the fart regulating business.
This is not as new as you might think. The South Coast Air Quality Management District, the agency charged with improving air quality in the Los Angeles basin and environs, has had regs on the books for a while now about dairy farms. The net effect has been to drive dairy farms out of the area and the price of dairy in southern California through the roof. But now, instead of LA getting its milk from Fresno, the most likely outcome is that it will come from Nevada or Arizona or Oregon and the stuff will be priced out of reach of the average citizen. Not to mention the state with the highest taxes anywhere, while roads crumble and water infrastructure is inadequate to the needs of the current population, has set aside $50 million to help dairy farmers control their cow farts. If the roads keep disintegrating, the overpriced milk may never make it to market.
But policy outcomes are secondary to the massive presumptuousness of attempting to regulate something, its unpleasantness not withstanding, that is a normal and natural part of life itself. The progress of mankind has been all about harnessing nature. That’s what science and engineering do. But there is a difference between harnessing and overriding and that is the point where we cease to understand that we are creatures, not creators. We are not apart from nature, that is to say the created order, we are part of it and limited by it. We re not God, we are His creations.
The primary focus of the regulations at this juncture is about, “State regulators want more farmers to reduce emissions with methane digesters, which capture methane from manure in large storage tanks and convert the gas into electricity.” Digestion technology is as old as the hills. I worked on digestion projects back in the 1970’s. One must ask oneself if this technology is such a panacea and it has been around for so long, why have the farms not adopted it long ago? The answer is pretty straight forward, the economics are not there. The cost of operating the things, which includes disposal of the digested manure (which makes manure itself smell sweet), exceeds the value of the energy derived from them. More important even than the laws of physics are the “laws” of human behavior.
I am reminded of the old joke – A scientist confronts God and tells God He is no longer needed. The scientist claims he can create life from scratch. A challenge is made between God and the scientist to prove this. The scientist reaches down to grab a handful of dirt and God stops him saying “Get your own dirt.” – Things are just much deeper than we are often willing to grant. That depth constrains us; as powerful as we are, there are limits to our power.
I am still trying to figure out the election just past. But one message came from it very loudly. The American people are tired of the government trying to reshape reality. Whether it is try to do away with gender or control cow farts, most people are fed up with the government thinking they can do anything. It is not just a matter of constitutional limits, it is also a matter of natural limits.
We have a lot of ideas about God in this country, but most of us know there is one and most of us know He is a lot bigger than we are. When we acknowledge that and operate within the constraints that establishes, this nation has accomplished some extraordinary things. It is time to stop regulating that which is simply a part of life and get back to the serious business of improving life for as many as we can.