Energy and conservative environmentalism

How we think about the environment and human beings’ place in it can dramatically impact people’s lives through public policy. This becomes evident when it comes to energy development and regulation.

Radical environmental thinking – which values the existence of “soils, waters, plants, and animals”[*] the same as it does human life, and which sees traditional values and human beings generally as the enemies of Mother Nature – holds as its ideal a purely abstract, unrealistic fantasy: a world in which mankind’s existence and activities have no negative impacts on the environment. Hence, the appeal of the radical environmentalists is that we abandon all fossil fuel energy development because of its harms to the environment in favor of “environmentally friendly” renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal power.

Since most people are reasonable enough to recognize that renewable energy can only provide a portion of our energy needs, and that abandoning fossil fuels altogether would severely impact millions of people’s lives, policy progress towards the radical goal of eliminating fossil fuel use has (thankfully) been very slow. What it has created are policies that limit the growth of fossil fuel production as much as possible. It has also led radical environmentalist groups to use legal action as a tool to achieve their utopian dreams, even when new fossil fuel energy production would use cleaner energy sources than we’ve relied on in the past.

But the simple reality is that all energy development, including renewable energy development, requires significant amounts of natural resources (society’s need for natural resources to improve living standards is a basic fact of human existence that radical environmentalist thinking fails to grasp). In other words, renewable energy is not “environmentally friendly” in the way that radical environmentalists dream it to be. So it should come as no surprise that radical environmental groups have now begun to aim their legal weapons at the renewable projects they once hailed as the salvation of the planet, as the altogether predictable environmental impacts started coming to light.

But what does this mean for the life of the average citizen? With a regularly increasing need for more energy due to a growing population, and fewer sources of energy to provide for those needs, it means one thing: a harder life due to higher energy prices. Higher energy prices not only means higher power and heating bills, but higher prices for everything we use and depend upon in our lives. This is because everything in modern society – from relative luxuries like flatscreen TVs and iPhones to the most basic necessities such as food, transportation, and health care – require energy in some form to produce. This is the practical result of radical environmental thinking: lives made more expensive, more difficult, and altogether more unlivable, especially for low-income families who struggle already to obtain life’s basic needs.

The alternative is conservative environmental thinking, which Utah has become a national leader in over the past several years. Conservative environmental thinking sees people as the solution to environmental concerns, not the problem, and is grounded in reality-based principles like limited government, personal responsibility, free markets, and the family.

A prime example of conservative environmentalism in action is the “clean air pledge” initiative sponsored by Governor Herbert’s Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR). This initiative uses public education efforts and community-based partnerships to encourage Utahns to voluntarily act to improve Utah’s air quality. As a voluntary initiative, UCAIR sees people as the solution to environmental problems. It also recognizes the limited role that government should play in solving environmental concerns, respecting and reinforcing the freedom of Utah families and individuals. And by doing these things, UCAIR relies on and encourages personal responsibility among Utahns, both individuals and families, as the engine of lasting environmental stewardship.

A second example of Utah’s leadership in, and the success of, conservative environmental thinking is a series of agreements (done outside the courtroom) in recent years in Utah between state and federal government agencies, reasonable environmental advocates, and private-sector businesses. These agreements allowed for expanded development of Utah’s fossil fuel energy resources, while also protecting/conserving the surrounding environment. Like the UCAIR initiative, these agreements recognized that the people involved in the issue (both environmental advocates and energy businesses) were the solution to the issue, not the problem. They also recognized the power of the free market and the limited role of government, as the businesses themselves undertook to implement the measures which allowed for the deals, and in one case even funded the desired environmental conservation.

In short, the world of radical environmentalism is a dismal one in which people’s lives are made more miserable as they are forced to give up better lives, opportunities, and liberties to protect their plant, animal, and inanimate “neighbors.” The world of conservative environmentalism, on the other hand, is one that offers the hope that people’s lives can improve and progress because of their freedom – with an acceptable level of environmental impact – while we also remain good stewards over the environment.