Thursday, January 12, 2012

Essay by Pete Jermann of Olean, NY: Environmentalism a Myopic Paradox – Think Globally, Act Locally, But Not In My Backyard

[Blogger's note:  This remarkable text came to my notice today through a somewhat shorter version which ran in  the Olean (NY) Times Herald — both on-paper and online.  Within hours, it was being pirated onto shale gas discussion groups, such as Natural Gas Forums Dot Com, where landowners gather to share both sentiments and information.  I tracked down the author — a self-employed craftsman and home-schooling father from Olean — and got his permission to preserve his longer original version here.]

Two generations ago the discovery of retrievable gas from the Marcellus Shale would have been greeted with — it's there, we need it, let's get it.  Today, after two generations of the environmental movement, the response is — it's there, you don't need it, it will hurt the earth.  Other than the agreement “it's there,” the calculus has turned 180 degrees.

In the mid-twentieth century the lords of industry reigned as the only team on the playing field.  Today environmentalism has become a full-fledged belief system and has largely won the public relations war.  The environmental movement now plays on the field from a dominant position as the white knights opposed to the now dark lords of industry.  But are the knights really so white and the lords really so dark?  I believe the lords are not so dark and the knights not so white.  However, it is the knights that generally get the free pass, and it is the knights of environmentalism and their seemingly pure quest for the perfect world that I would like to look at.

The current environmental movement fixates on improvements that are immeasurable, intangible and unaffordable.  Where earlier gains in environmental protection tangibly cleaned up dirty rivers, dirty lakes, and dirty air, it now fights against remote possibilities, against threats not actually visible but hiding under every stone and behind every tree in our future landscape.  For these “improvements” it will sacrifice jobs that measurably improve many lives.  It will sacrifice cheap energy that cooks our food, heats our homes, drives us to work and even pumps the water whose purity it holds supreme.  And it will sacrifice public funds on schemes that would never see the light of day if people were asked to invest their own personal resources.

A movement that was both necessary and highly successful has become the reformer who can't stop reforming.  It has become the mother who can't see the goodness in her own children, but only the few faults, no matter how small, that still remain.  A movement that began with rivers afire and moon views dyed brown by smothering smog has become a movement of hubris dictating the perfect climate and the perfect earth.  The rivers no longer burn.  The moon is no longer brown.  Yet the movement marches on like a column of army ants that must feed or die.

What began as a truly progressive movement is neither forward-looking nor backward-looking.  It is simply mired in a mud of its own making that is neither primeval nor futuristic.  Its mantra is a great “NO” proclaimed loudly and often.  Its primary appeal is fear.  Its philosophy is literally sterile — one that sees both the environment and humans as supremely fragile and incapable of adaptation.  Its vision is a myopic paradox – think globally, act locally, but not in my backyard.

Worse than any religion, it demands unquestioned loyalty, simply condemning those dissenting as ignorant or greedy.  In a world where Christian evangelization has been driven from our public square, environmentalist views permeate our government, our media, and our schools.  In a world that increasingly denies man his soul, it grants one to the earth at large.  While it condemns conservatives for wanting a world of medieval simplicity, it longs for a world that predates man himself.

At some point self-righteous zeal becomes an end in itself.  The quest for reform mutates until it has no balance.  It only has “no.”  The motive for a better environment becomes a personal quest engendering good feelings about oneself without requiring any real sacrifice or contribution.

Most ardent “environmentalists” have a job, an income, a comfortable lifestyle, and an annual energy-consuming vacation, all of which conveniently meet their own standard.  It is always someone else who doesn't meet the standard or who pays the price in increased taxes, increased regulation, or by being denied a job that has been deemed harmful in the quest for environmental nirvana.

To look on the treasures beneath our feet as a threat to our comfort rather than a contribution we can make to a more vibrant world economy, one that multiplies wealth rather than redistributes a static wealth, is simply selfish.

When we accept no risk in our own backyards, we have no right to expect it of those whose backyards have provided us with the gas we use to heat our homes, the electricity we use to drive our appliances, and the fuel we use to go to and fro.  In all fairness, if we are not willing to accept this risk, we should turn out our lights, turn off our home entertainment centers, turn off our heat and learn how to scratch a basic existence out of our own backyards.

When entire peoples decide that they should be benefactors of a global economy but not contributors we will not even have wealth to re-distribute.  We will only have poverty, both spiritual and physical.  To not use the resources the earth provides is to be the unworthy servant in the gospel parable who buried his one talent rather than risk losing it.

None of this is to deny our responsibility as caretakers of the world we live in.  However, for the sake of perspective, we should be humbled by the thought that our world began as a geological composite of dead rock and bloomed into an orb teaming with life in every nook and cranny, on the land in the seas and in the air above, all without our help.  To think it needs our micro-managing is hubris of the worst sort.  It is a hubris that will ultimately regulate away both man's freedom and his humanity.

Environmental concerns should always be part of the equation, but they should never be an absolute.  The environment with all its variety of life, geography and climate has always been in a state of change.  It changed constantly before we became its inhabitants, and it will change when we are no longer here.  Environmental responsibility can no more reject risk than it can proclaim “no” to change, because nature itself will always override that “no.”

The Marcellus Shale and many other resources in this country can be mined responsibly, but none of it can be done completely without risk.  There is neither progress nor freedom without risk.  It is foolhardy to think that a life without risk is even possible.  It is foolish to think that risk always favors the do-nothing position.  The risk of doing nothing is the risk of poverty and stagnation.  I think history will show that to be the greater risk.

The perfect world will be found in neither poverty nor prosperity.  But one is better than the other.  Prosperity will always be messy.  There will always be accidents waiting to happen and unforeseen consequences.  However, history shows — particularly the history of the United States — that more people live better lives when they are willing to take those risks and deal with the consequences as they occur.

It is our prosperity that has allowed us to live in a cleaner and healthier world than our ancestors.  It is our continued prosperity that will allow us to continue doing so.  This prosperity will require an attitude that says, “How can we make this happen?”  It will require an emphatic “YES!” rather than a tired, overused “NO.”

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