Sunday, July 29, 2012

Real environmentalists should be happy

Walter Russell Mead has a great piece on the effect of the energy revolution on the environmental debate:
On the whole, this news is about as good as it gets: trillions of dollars of valuable resources are now available to power the US economy, cut our trade deficit and reduce our vulnerability to Middle East instability. Hundreds of thousands of well paid blue collar jobs are going to reduce income inequality and help rebuild a stable middle class. Many of the resources are exactly where we would want them: in hard hit Rust Belt states. 
World peace is also looking more possible: the great powers aren’t going to be elbowing each other as they fight to control the last few dribs and drabs of oil. Nasty dictatorships and backward-facing petro-states aren’t going to be able blackmail the world as easily.
All good news, indeed. But devoted enviros won't have any part of it:
For them, the spectacle of a looming world energy crisis was good news. It justified huge subsidies for solar and wind power (and thereby guaranteed huge fortunes for clever green-oriented investors). Greens outdid themselves year after year with gloom and doom forecasts about the coming oil crunch. They hoped that public dislike of the Middle East and the costs of our involvement there could be converted into public support for expensive green energy policies here at home: “energy independence” was one of the few arguments they had that resonated widely among average voters.
While the enviros won't be able to overturn capitalism any time soon (the real motive of a significant portion of them), those who are truly concerned about the environment should be very happy about the energy revolution. First, a clean environment is a luxury good, meaning that a richer world can afford and consume more environmentalism. Second, the energy revolution is shifting consumption away from coal toward much cleaner fuels. Third, it is happening in North America, where energy extraction is more likely to be sensibly regulated. Imagine the effect on the environment if, rather than Canada, it was China or Russia that was sitting on vast deposits of oil sands. In sum:
Neither the world’s energy problems nor its climate issues are going away any time soon. Paradise is not beckoning just a few easy steps away. But the new availability of these energy sources is on balance a positive thing for environmentalists as much as for anyone else.

Perhaps, and I know this is a heretical thought, but perhaps Gaia is smarter than the greens.