Some environmentalists continue to cheer on rising oil prices even as people feel pain at the pump. It’s a mistake.
I spend most of my day writing and editing Green websites.
So I tend to bump into a lot of folks from the environmental crowd. Inevitably, these days, the topic of conversation turns to fuel prices. The last few months have turned us all into armchair energy analysts. We can tell you the daily closing price of light, sweet crude; we notice every hiccup in the production line; and there’s endless speculation about what instability in Nigeria or a hurricane strike on Gulf oil platforms might do to summer prices.
We told you so
There’s a certain amount of gloating, too. I suppose this is to be expected: environmentalists have known for years that nothing would be done to prepare our energy future until prices justified the research and development of renewables. Now — almost 25 years after the Arab Oil Embargo — the chickens have finally come home to roost. A lot of Greens are cheering on the price of oil as if it were the hometown football team.
Which is unfortunate, since gloating rarely wins hearts and minds. It’s not as if the general public doesn’t already nurse a long-held suspicion that environmentalists value wildlife and wilderness over people. Ignoring the pain caused by high energy prices — particularly to the working class — is neither compassionate nor pragmatic.
Sure, high fuel prices have really lit a fire under the alternative energy industry. Venture capitalusts are funding small energy startups with the enthusiasm of the DotCom boom. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in government subsidies floating around for industrial-scale power and fuels development, and even the oil companies are broadening their portfolios to include safe renewable bets, such as windpower and solar.
But those who are cheerleading the price of oil are also rooting on environmental compromises we’ve so far been unwilling to make. Take, for example, the European utilities who have been deeply committed to cleaner-burning natural gas over the past couple decades. With natural gas tracking oil prices and coal remaining — for the time being — a relative energy bargain, big Euro utilities are flipping to coal. That’s right: hyper-dirty, carbon dioxide-producing coal. Just as we were getting serious about greenhouse emissions and air quality.
Not unsurprisingly, high oil prices have led to renewed calls for drilling, both offshore and in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While even a crash drilling program wouldn’t have the slighest effect on prices at the pump, recent polls show overwhelming public support for new exploration. It will be politically difficult for Greens to put the brakes on drilling, despite its futility and environmental downside.
The Moonbat Factor
Before An Inconvenient Truth made it possible to talk about the environment again, Greens were on the ropes. The environmental movement was generally viewed as a bunch of effete, Birkenstock-clad moonbeams who care more for snail darters than people. Rejoicing over oil prices while the cost of gasoline chews up grocery budgets plays to these old prejudices. It’s the fast track to popular irrelevance.
In any case, we’ve already reached the tipping point: even if energy prices crest over the next few months, the swing to meaningful alternative energy solutions is already being carried by its own momentum. It’s time to stifle the Green gloating and help people through the transition to come.