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It's useful to pay attention to what's happening on the fringes of the climate change crusade because, as we've seen with past movements to control individual behavior in the name of the greater good, the extreme can quickly become the norm.

The latest red flag for personal freedom is waving over Bellingham, Washington, a mid-sized city north of Seattle. 

Officials there are hoping to become the first city in America to ban natural gas for heating homes and businesses. The prohibition would apply not only to new construction, but to existing heating systems as well, according to a New York Times report.

That's a big leap ahead of other cities, such as Berkeley, California, which forbids new installations of gas-fired heating units. 

In Bellingham, if the ordinance passes, the cheap burning gas furnaces would have to be ripped out of basements and utility rooms and replaced with electric heaters, at a cost that could hit tens of thousands of dollars per home.

That's an unprecedented level of government intrusion on private property. But it's a natural progression of a movement that preaches individual freedom is an unaffordable  luxury if the planet is to be saved from imminent incineration.

If the government can shut off the gas valve to your home, no green edict is unimaginable. 

At least in Washington state, which gets two-thirds of its power from hydroelectric dams, there's more honesty in the carbon chain than in, say, California, where the majority of electricity is generated by gas- and coal-fired plants. That means those mandatory heat pumps in Berkeley will still leave a significant carbon footprint.

Bellingham hasn't specified who will pay for replacing gas furnaces if homeowners can't afford to do so themselves. But the answer is obvious: taxpayers. That will make this one of many wealth transfer schemes that will be necessary to "do something" about climate change. 

Equalizing wealth is a parallel mission of global warming zealots. I recognized that the first time an activist came into my office nearly 20 years ago to sound the alarm on climate change. The former congressman was passionately resistant to the idea the threat could be met with inventiveness and technology, insisting that forcing more austere lifestyles is the only answer.

And those smaller lives would be dictated by a far more powerful government that would finally orchestrate the utopian dream of a more orderly and equitable society. 

To get people to forfeit both their conveniences and freedoms — not to mention their furnaces — it's necessary to hype the threat, hide contrary evidence and deny that anything at all is being done about global warming.

The progress deniers create the false sense that we are idly fiddling while the earth burns.

The reality is that big things are being done to address climate change. We are surging ahead on perfecting renewable energy sources, making the things we use cleaner and more efficient and exploring how to scrub and capture carbon. And by the way, natural gas has played a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

These initiatives hold the promise of reversing global warming without stripping individuals of their liberties and ceding control to central planners.

Banning gas furnaces in a few American cities — or even all of them — doesn't. 

nfinley@detroitnews.com

Catch Nolan Finley on “One Detroit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on Detroit Public Television.

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