by Bruce S. Thornton
The global warming apocalypse and its Elmer Gantry, Al Gore, may have faded from public view lately, but that old-time green religion is still making mischief. President Obama has just delayed until after November’s election a decision on the Canadian Keystone XL pipeline. This truly shovel-ready project would create thousands of blue-collar jobs, help hold down the price of gasoline, and lessen our dependence on oil imported from thugs like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
The administration’s excuses for this move are preposterous. The State Department sniffed that it needs more time “to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest” and, as Obama said in his announcement, can “protect the American people.” But three years, nine public meetings, and reams of reports have already shown that the pipeline’s alleged dangers to the Ogallala aquifer, or the malign effects of “dirty” crude oil, or the threat to endangered species, are specious pretexts. Like his slow-down of oil drilling permits and reduction of oil production on federal lands — down 40% compared to ten years ago — Obama’s decision is in fact both political and ideological, a mollifying bone tossed to the bicoastal progressive elites on whom Obama depends for campaign contributions and political support.
For these affluent urban-dwellers, the cult of environmentalism is a cheap way to indulge a vaguely leftist dislike of industrial capitalism while enjoying all the benefits that a high-tech, oil-fueled, free-market economy confers on them. Like the “telescopic philanthropy,” to use Charles Dickens’ label, directed at distant ghetto-dwellers or the Third World poor, the urban nature-lover conspicuously displays his concern over a natural world under assault by capitalism’s depravities. But he does so only from within a cocoon of technology that assures him a reliable, safe supply of food, freeing him from the drudgery of wresting sustenance from a hostile natural world; and that protects him from the disease, drought, famine, predators, malnutrition, and the other natural evils afflicting our ancestors and those living in the Third World today.
Equally hypocritical is the Marxist agenda lurking in environmentalism, which blames the degradation of the environment on the same free market capitalism and economic globalization that have created blue-state wealth. Given communism’s abject failure as an economic and social system, contemporary Marxism has insinuated itself into environmentalism as a way of wielding influence and recruiting adherents from among those dissatisfied with modern life and the trade-offs required by a free economy and its creative destruction. Issues such as pollution or species extinction are thus explained as the consequences of an evil capitalist empire that oppresses the international proletariat and the natural world alike. That’s why at most protests against the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank or Wall Street, the hammer and sickle can be seen flying beside the banners of Greenpeace. Forgotten, of course, is the fact that communist regimes like the old Soviet Union and today’s China are some of history’s worst polluters.
What gives this strange Marxist nature-love wider political traction, however, is the patina of science that disguises its mythic origins. Sentimental idealizations of nature as our true home, a superior realm of peace, harmony, freedom and simplicity destroyed by civilization and technology, are as old as the Greeks and their myths of the Golden Age and the Noble Savage. But today’s modern environmentalist cloaks these ancient myths in the robes of science. Overpopulation, pesticide pollution, resource depletion, extermination of species, and of course global warming have all over the years been presented as scientifically established facts that show the destructive consequences of modern capitalism. But in each case, the apocalyptic predictions have all ended in a whimper, and the science supposedly supporting them exposed as partial, incomplete, politically motivated, and riddled with unexamined assumptions and at times outright fakery. Nonetheless, politicized nature-love camouflaged with “science” permeates popular culture and our public schools, where kids are taught lies about drowning polar bears and melting ice caps, the quasi-pagan cult celebration Earth Day is solemnly celebrated, carbon-based fuels are demonized, and driving a Prius is a sacrament.
Of course, more grubby concerns lie behind progressive environmentalism. As Al Gore demonstrates, thundering against the “dysfunctional” modern world and its “technological hubris,” “increasingly aggressive encroachment into the natural world,” and “froth and frenzy of industrial civilization,” as he wrote inEarth in the Balance, can make one rich — Gore’s net worth increased from between $1 and $2 million in 2000, to around $100 million today. The sermons condemning our destruction of the natural world can provide the political rationale for taxpayer-funded subsidies for “green energy.” Indeed, Gore’s investments in companies that benefit from green crony capitalism may make him the world’s first “carbon billionaire,” as the New York Times’s John Broder put it. More recently, the collapse of firms like Solyndra, beneficiary of half a billion dollars worth of now-vanished taxpayer money, has illustrated just how lucrative apocalyptic environmentalism can be. As Investor’s Business Daily described Gore’s unholy alliance of federal subsidies and environmental catastrophism, “The American consumer and taxpayer are on the wrong end of his green Ponzi scheme.”
Crony capitalism aside, the Keystone decision reflects Obama’s larger progressive ideology that sees America’s free-market economy as inherently unjust, and our reliance on fossil fuel as the enabler of this oppressive system, as well as being a danger to the environment. Indulging Disneyfied fantasies about nature is merely the honey that helps this anti-capitalist, redistributionist poison go down more easily. Thus delaying the Keystone pipeline fits in with the class-warfare rhetoric that for now is the central narrative of Obama’s reelection campaign. Just as attacks on “income inequality” and the “greed” of the “1%,” along with debt-financed, multi-trillion-dollar increases in social-welfare transfers, serves his aim to redistribute income and increase government power, so too weaning us off oil is part of Obama’s promise to “fundamentally transform America” by attacking the engine of American prosperity, power, and national self-reliance. In this way he can move us closer to an America more like Europe: just one unexceptional pole in a multi-polar world.
©2012 Bruce S. Thornton