Environmentalism: Earth First, People Last
As someone who is neither a climate change denier nor a believer in impending apocalyptic climate change, I haven't been particularly keen to address the issue of emissions knowing I would face the wrath of both groups. However, in light of President Trump's decision to leave the Paris Accord, American energy policy has come under scrutiny, and I believe that an approach is needed, though currently lacking, that takes into account both the present state of the American people and the future of our planet's atmosphere.
As I've written before, I was no supporter of the Paris Accord. It was estimated that, should the US have kept its pledge to reduce emissions, millions (yes, millions) of American jobs would have been lost. By the Accord's own predictions (the accuracy of which, like any climate predictions, are very questionable), this enormous economic sacrifice would have prevented a temperature increase of a mere fraction of a degree by the end of the century. Though environmentalists have since denounced Trump as the harbinger of our planet's doom, his administration believed the cost of this Accord was too high for the American people, a decision with which I wholeheartedly agree.
Something that has always frustrated me about much of the environmental lobby is its predilection toward overlooking the human costs of green policy proposals. Although I do care about the environment and worry about pollution, I think it's glaringly obvious that those who would argue for the elimination of millions of jobs in order to prevent an estimated temperature increase of a fraction of a degree (over several generations!) are most likely speaking from a place of abundance and privilege.
Environmentalists often wax poetic about the survival of our species, and our planet, over many generations and the next few centuries. For all too many Americans, however, and for billions of people in the developing world, the struggle of survival isn't a question of centuries, but rather years, months, and yes, perhaps even days. As much as it might frustrate environmentalists, the fact is that when given the choice, people will not prioritize the long-term future of this planet over the short-term survival of themselves and their family. And I don't blame them for that.
The hard truth is that, like all things, environmentalism has its costs. More than just the billions of dollars that must go into clean, renewable energy sources to make them competitive and viable on a large scale, green policies also usually carry huge cuts for those in fields that produce the most emissions (and incidentally, fields whose products we're still entirely dependent on, like oil and coal). This hurt extends beyond the ever-slighted modern-day coal miner and his family though, as those that depend on the cheap, plentiful energy he produces are inevitably punished as well.
It would be great if we were a nation entirely comprised of upper-middle class families who could absorb the high costs of environmental initiatives like the Paris Accord without a second thought. Alas, however, families who are struggling to get by and who depend on energy jobs and the affordable power they produce exist too. The President does have a responsibility to ensure the US follows smart energy policies, but not at the expense of millions of people's livelihoods.
If environmentalists really are serious about implementing earth-friendly legislation, they need to do two things. First, they need to give all the climate hysteria a rest. Hyperbole does the environmental lobby no favors, and when people hear horror stories of the earth's fast-approaching heat-death, only to find out that we're talking about imperceptible increases, it weakens the credibility of all anti-global warming activists (Al Gore, we're looking at you).
Second, environmentalists must understand that people will always care more about their providing for their families than they do for the environment. That's just how people are. It's a pretty common principle in negotiations that you can't ask for more than what your opponent has to give. Policies that inflict crippling restrictions on economies will always be hard, or downright impossible to sell to a population in tough financial circumstances.
Instead, environmental activists should work with people's self-interest in order to make real progress in lowering emissions. Companies that limit waste save on costs while reducing their carbon footprint. Climate permitting, properties that install solar panels save on energy bills in the long run. Individuals who choose to bike or take public transport for their commutes spend less money on gas and lessen the number of vehicles on the road. Additionally, instead of pouring funds into unprofitable energy sources like wind, why not fight to reduce regulations on nuclear power? It's clean, safer than it's ever been, has the potential to be extremely abundant, plus, it doesn't have the finiteness of oil.
I'm sure I'll be denounced as a pollution-loving, big oil-funded, climate change-denying shill because of this, but I really do care about the environment. I just happen to care about people as well.