Did you ever watch “Captain Planet” in your childhood? I did and was enough of a sucker to like it.

Though I enjoyed it, and despite its excellent intentions, I have to say that “Captain Planet” damaged the environmental movement terribly.

How can that be? Though entertaining, the show spread all sorts of misleading ideas. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there are no magic rings that summon environmental genies; these were all destroyed by hobbits centuries ago.

I’m not alone in being deceived by that show. More impressionable minds took the show’s stereotypes to heart. Pity those poor free marketeers who still believe that all environmentalists are silly, pimply teenagers. These people, who learned from Captain Planet that if it’s not ugly or fat, then it can’t be evil, believe all sorts of crazy things – like that all regulations on business are bad. They ignore that technological progress is often driven by regulations, producing jobs and a better environment. They cry big crocodile tears over the costs of keeping the air, water and land clean but turn a blind eye to the benefits. As the federal government’s Office of Management and Budget recently discovered, environmental regulations saved somewhere between 3.4 to 6.3 times the costs of implementing them, thanks to the decreased need for hospital visits and lost workdays.

The conservative tools who would like to let the market regulate itself should consider the worst polluting plants in American industry. These were built before the Clean Air Act was enacted, so they were allowed to defer cleaning up until they were upgraded. Thirty years later, most of these plants have remained just as disgusting.

At the same time, “Captain Planet” junkies don’t always understand that there needs to be a balance between the costs of environmental regulations and their benefits. In a particular stroke of genius, California’s lawmakers made logging regulations so stringent that it became much cheaper to purchase imported lumber. The end result is that we put local industries out of business, we contribute to environmental disasters elsewhere and we pollute more the farther we go to import the wood.

If you’ve ever been stuck behind a logging truck, you know all about the toxic gas these things spew. If you bottled up all the fumes from just one truck making its trip down here from Canada, you could probably kill a whole room full of cuddly koalas. I wonder why nobody has tried that.

More often than you might think, economic and environmental interests are one and the same. CFLs, those crazy spiral light bulbs, save long term costs and energy. Recycling, too, falls into this category. Santa Barbara County recently discovered that it’s much cheaper to pay for a large-scale recycling program than a new landfill. The county now recycles almost half of its raw waste. And though the program’s success is hindered a bit by whichever wastes-of-tender-meat keep putting their trash in my recycling bins, Santa Barbara County recycles nearly half of its raw waste and saves money in the process. It’s like having your cake and a hooker too.

My final slab of beef with that “Captain Planet” was that it portrayed pollution as someone else’s fault. Industry is not the only, nor even the biggest problem facing the environment. Most pollution is brought to us by many little consumers, each contributing in our own little way.

What we really need is a Captain Planet to watch for people neglecting to carpool or mixing trash with
recyclables, who will then punch them right in the freakin’ face.

Daily Nexus columnist Loren Williams doesn’t understand why the Planeteers had the powers of earth, fire, wind, water… and heart?!