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Summing Up Big Green

What does the future hold for the environmental activism movement? Look to California. (Part V of the Washington Examiner/PJM special report on the environmental movement.)

by
Charlie Martin

Bio

September 30, 2010 - 11:04 pm

The Washington Examiner is publishing a five-part special report in association with PJ Media on “Big Green”: the alliance of the Democratic Party, environmental groups, and activists in the progressive movement. It’s not just a band of flannel-shirted environmentalists any longer; it’s become a big-money, major player in Washington power politics and American elections.

In the last installment, we consider what Big Green wants — with California as an example.

It’s now almost 40 years since the Environmental Protection Agency was authorized, more than 40 years since the first Earth Day. Where do we stand?

It would certainly be wrong to say that no good has come from the environmental movement. The Cuyahoga River no longer burns, and in fact it’s once again the center of beautiful vistas and parks. Lake Erie is recovering; steel mill towns like Pittsburgh and my own home town of Pueblo, Colorado, have been cleaned up dramatically — no more red rain or coke-oven clouds. Comedians no longer tell smog jokes about Los Angeles. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we found out that the real environmental crimes were being committed behind the Iron Curtain — but now there’s even progress there.

So what are environmentalists to do when so many of their goals have been accomplished?

Why, redouble their efforts, of course.

Today, in the final installment of its series on Big Green, the Washington Examiner considers what effect the current environmental movement is having on California, on the theory that California today is the whole U.S. in ten years.

Oddly, there’s been very little recognition of the gains that have been made. Instead, there seems always to be another crisis, another endangered species or wetland at risk or area that should be established as a wilderness. With the Department of the Interior, and the EPA’s support along with the state government’s cooperation, California has been at forefront of environmental regulation.

It isn’t working out as well as the people of California might have hoped.

The most notorious example has been the restriction of water supplies to the San Joaquin Valley; thanks to the current drought, and a small population of endangered fish, water for agricultural purposes has been more and more limited. For the last several years, many farmers have been effectively unable to put in a crop. The San Joaquin Valley is, indeed, returning to its “natural” pre-irrigation state.

Elsewhere in California, other environmental crusades are bearing fruit.  There is general agreement on a “goal” of delivering 33 percent of California’s power from “renewable” sources, like solar and wind energy, by 2020. That’s ten years, which sounds like plenty of time — until you reflect that it often takes 20 years to move a new power generation project through the regulatory process.

It’s not so clear where the renewable energy would come from, either — not since Senator Dianne Feinstein announced her intention to introduce legislation to restrict solar power projects from being placed in the Mojave Desert.

In fact, the legislation won’t even be needed. By simply putting the project planners on notice, Feinstein has driven many of them out.  As was reported last December in the New York Times:

“When we attended the onsite desert meeting with Senator Feinstein, it was clear she was very serious about this,” said Gary Palo, vice president for development with Cogentrix Energy, a solar developer owned by Goldman Sachs. “It would make no sense for us politically or practically to go forward with those projects.”

The fact is that solar and wind projects are, at best, on the very edge of being economically feasible under perfect conditions.  Add regulatory uncertainty and a multiyear legislative fight — think about the Yucca Mountain waste repository in Nevada, peremptorily closed by the Obama administration after years of studies and billions of dollars invested — and there simply is no economic reason for any company to get involved.

But this presents a dilemma. If California is to supply 33 percent of its power through wind and solar, but wind and solar plants can’t be built, where will the power come from?

This is the problem that the environmental movement now has to face: are there projects, plans, methods of providing energy and raw materials that are acceptable?

To some environmentalists, there are not. The final reduction to absurdity of this is the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which proposes, apparently seriously, that humanity should allow itself to die out. Les U. Knight, a spokesman for the movement, said that “…as long as there is one breeding pair of humans, there’s too great a threat to the biosphere.”

Clearly, most environmentalists won’t go that far. There are plenty of children in attendance with their parents at environmental rallies. But it is the limiting case of a general assumption among the environmental movement: that any development — any noticeable sign of human habitation — is “unnatural” — especially when it’s visible from someone’s condominium.

As long as that assumption continues, there will be plenty of people in the environmental activism industry willing to grab money and power under the guise of environmentalism.

Charlie Martin writes on science, health, culture and technology for PJ Media. Follow his 13 week diet and exercise experiment on Facebook and at PJ Lifestyle
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