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Environmental Hypocrisy

October 26, 2012

Are you an environmentalist? If so, what does that mean to you? Let me tell you what it means to me, not in an intentionally vituperative manner, but hopefully in an eye opening, or at least reflective one. I understand the desire to see and appreciate nature,  to have clean air and water, and to generally appreciate and nurture our resources and the source from whence they come. I also understand how these sentiments, when carried too far, are in direct conflict with sustained growth, improved human condition and welfare, and the physical and emotional health of the middle and lower classes.

There is no more a regressive tax than those policies and regulations that impact energy production and costs. My wealthy friends that have 3,500 square foot homes and summer condos, that regularly vacation abroad, are slightly annoyed when their electric bill or gas prices rise. These types of people rarely, if ever, reflect on the real hardships these price increases have on people that live paycheck to paycheck. These  price increases are often truly destructive.

When so many of the policy choices promoted by people like Al Gore, his “fly-over” celebrity friends, and wealthy coastal liberals come from equal parts appreciation for nature, a desire to maintain their own personal open spaces (both seen and unseen), and a simmering disdain for American culture as it appears in rural and suburban energy reliance, it is hard to ignore the hypocrisy in the anger these types direct at carbon emissions. This is when they are usually in the top 1/10 of 1% of personal carbon emitters in the world and produce more personal carbon from their home air conditioning in a year than the average Kansan does driving her F150 to and from her job site.

But the harm to the working class is not the only problem. There is the major, but oft dismissed notion of “to what end?” It is generally accepted that curbing our own carbon emissions through regulation and tax will not actually curtail the growth of world carbon emissions. We are constantly meant to be frightened into action with calls that if we don’t act today (literally, today!), then it will simply be too late to stop the total devastation of the earth’s sustainability. Yet, the continued growth and economic development throughout the world, at exponential rates, particularly in China and India, will not only replace the growth currently attributed to America, but vastly exceed it. This worldwide growth makes irrelevant and irrational the imposed sacrifices on the working poor and lower socioeconomic classes.

One only need look at the probable rationales of other countries in instituting policies and treaties, already routinely ignored by most current signatories, on the currently uncommitted United States. It is an understandably seductive idea to emerging economies that it is their “turn” as countries to grow, and that America should now pay for its past successes to their benefit. However, if America ever succumbs to these pressures, it will undoubtedly result in the same universal failure that socialist dogma has befell all previous blind believers throughout history.

Of course, there are the carbon offsets. When Al Gore found that people would look at other causes of carbon emissions than low mileage SUV’s or industry production when evaluating his words on global warming, and realized that he was undoubtedly one of the worst abusers in the world by his own measures, he did not deign to modify either his stance or his lifestyle. Instead, Gore rather brilliantly, if equally absurdly in its blatant disregard for all logic and reason considering his public demeanor on the subject, decided he could profit, and profit handsomely, by creating the carbon offset. Mr. Gore won a Nobel Peace Prize in spite of, or even because of, it all.

This offset became a business which allows the sinner to buy her way into heaven without actually sacrificing in any meaningful way her cherished lifestyle, while still being able to profess her status as an environmentalist and exude public scorn for both the unabashed industrialist and capitalist sympathizer. A modern day indulgence. In my mind, the act speaks for itself as to the merit and the motive of the Nobelist’s message, but let’s look at an analogy for further clarification.

It is eerily similar to the 80s television evangelists who would proclaim us sinners and demand we repent in action and with our paycheck. People would do so only to discover in the end that the greatest sinners were the preachers themselves. Our shame was not only in having listened to those castigating us for the very things they were so blatantly guilty of themselves, but in having made them rich by appealing to and preying on, our genuine and good natured guilt. The modern environmentalist is no different.

Does that mean to call oneself an environmentalist one must be the stereotypical tree hugger, someone who has removed herself from the capitalist system entirely, one who desires a world and state of nature and seeks to govern as such? It is possible that you must do so if you want to be consistent in your words and deeds, or at least care for those with fewer comforts and opportunities than yourself, but no fewer desires. Certainly so if you continue to embrace the all encompassing carbon emitting capitalist structure.

I would ask you to take it a step further and consider that if you personally advocate less energy development (of actual, usable, cost efficient fuels; we all want the magic pill, but it isn’t here yet, so we deal with reality), if you like the idea of European like gas prices and the taxes and regulations that cause them, if you propose severe carbon taxes to curtail exploration, development, and production, both in energy and industry, in my opinion, and I hope you have considered it before, or if not, will do so now, you might not realize the actual effects of your cause, but it is almost surely increased human hardship. I often compare the environmentalist on the left with the defense hawk on the right and the bogey man we choose to see. The Republican voter, to use a generalization, who obfuscates the efforts of “sustainable” endeavors obviously wants clean air, water, and a nice park here or there in the city or the hinterland to visit, just as the Democrat who seeks military cuts and does not see the merit in “peace through strength” wants a safe, protected and peaceful world. I often think the best solution would be to put the environmentalists in charge of defense and the defense hawks in charge of the environment.