May 27, 2010
Environmentalists with Oil on Their Hands
When evaluating in an honest way all factors that contributed to the current pollution of the Gulf, we must ask why BP was drilling in 5,000 feet of ocean when there are so many other accessible and safe alternatives. There are large deposits of oil shale in Western Colorado that could easily and safely be extracted as it is now in Western Canada. We have all heard of the huge deposits of oil in ANWR, on Alaska's North Shore. Because of improved drilling technology, all available oil in ANWR can be extracted by using only 2,000 of its roughly 19,000,000 acres.
BP now drills in 5,000 feet of ocean because these better alternatives have been foreclosed to the oil industry. Environmental groups have effectively stymied this safe and relatively easy production of oil in the name of some higher but more nebulous good. Where they once rationalized their campaign against oil companies based upon the threat of environmental degradation, environmental groups now use the increasingly dubious claims of global warming to justify their obstruction.
As the policies of environmental groups were a factor in what we now see in the Gulf of Mexico, so they were in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. When huge quantities of oil were discovered in Prudhoe Bay on the North Shore of Alaska in the mid-1960s, one issue among many was the transportation of this oil.
The safest approach was a pipeline from the North Shore directly to the northern border of the contiguous United States. As a member of the Sierra Club at that time, I remember well the relentless war that the Sierra Club waged against both the drilling and the pipeline. In what has now become a predictable strategy, the Sierra Club catastrophized the entire project and attacked the motives of those who sought merely to respond to the demand for oil by the American public.
The Sierra Club at that time published a "Battlebook," where readers were told that the drilling and pipeline "will despoil thousands of acres of virgin wilderness, change the ecology of huge tracts, pollute Alaska's rivers and harbors, and interrupt the migration patterns of the caribou herds."
Because of what he called this "mindless onslaught of technology," the author asserted that the caribou herds would be decimated as American buffalo were in the 19th century. His heated rhetoric, no doubt a contribution to global warming, took control as he wrote that this development was a "rape" in the name of "fat profits."
Fortunately for America, the environmentalists at that time did not have the political clout they do now. Prudhoe Bay was developed, and it now operates without all the dire consequences to the land so hysterically predicted by the Sierra Club. However, as a partial victory for the environmentalists, the pipeline was constructed only to Valdez, Alaska, rather than to the border of the lower forty-eight states. And so, on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground, dumping 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean. Exxon is certainly responsible for the blunders that occurred that day.
In the one instance where a Sierra Club predictions came true, the Sierra Club had a hand in that disaster. The blunders of the ship's captain likely would not have occurred had it not been for the obstruction of the pipeline that could have reached the contiguous United States. The longer pipeline would have eliminated, or at least significantly reduced, the need for an Exxon Valdez. As with the wreck of the Exxon Valdez, the crisis today in the Gulf may not have occurred if the environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club had not obstructed so many of the safe alternatives to drilling in 5,000 feet of ocean.
The chronic obstruction of so many economic endeavors is a symptom of deeper problems in the environmental movement. Environmentalists tend to live in a fantasy world, where some unattainable perfection is always the enemy of the good. What was once reasonable conservation has become for many the pseudo-religion of environmentalism, where Luddite obstruction is the default position, and no environmental benefit, no matter how small, is ever too costly.
Aside from the nostalgic illusions of some lost Eden, among environmentalists there is a strong element that opposes democratic capitalism. Environmentalism becomes just another means to a dreamy collectivized end. They simply ignore or are ignorant of the causes of their comfortable life and the serious environmental degradation done by regimes with" planned" economies and "public" ownership of the means of production.
Environmentalism is also a worldview where one never really has to accept or take responsibility for the consequences of those policies. Millions die of malaria because affluent environmentalists had the political might to have DDT banned. America can be deprived of new sources of safe and clean nuclear energy because of the hysterical and dishonest war waged against the nuclear power industry. Environmentalists can tout wind power while campaigning to obstruct its generation near the shores of Cape Cod. (We must not interfere with the yachting patterns of the local but classy endangered species off Hyannisport.) Environmentalists seem never to be called to account.
As we experience the effects of and calculate the enormous costs to clean up the Gulf of Mexico, by all means, let's hold BP accountable. But let's refuse to give the environmentalists a free pass. We must judge them by all the consequences of what they advocate, and not just by their flowery rhetoric, pretty calendars, and supposedly noble intentions. We must emphasize that for all those supposedly "green" benefits, there are real costs and risks that the environmentalists downplay or conceal. In this case, environmentalists have Gulf oil on their hands as much as any floating pelican carcass, although we will never get an acknowledgment of any responsibility or an apology from them.
Henry P. Wickham, Jr. welcomes comments at HWickham@LNLAttorneys.com.