Sunday, March 22, 2009

What are you For?

I'm sure many of us have had the experience of being in a meeting with someone who constantly shoots down every idea in the room, but can't come up with an alternative.  It's beyond frustrating - it is obstructionist.

For too long, the modern environmentalist point of view seems to have been defined more by what they oppose, than by what they support.  And when they (as a sector or group) can agree on support for something, it is usually so filled with caveats and unworkable engineering . . . or is so insanely costly that it is worthless in the practical world.

This is part of why it is so important to re-define the environmentalist movement.  Real environmentalists want progress - both for the environment and for the people it supports.  We have the crazy situation before us today where wind projects can't get built because ENVIRONMENTALISTS oppose them.  They don't want coal-fired power, nuclear is a dirty word (even though it has ZERO ghg emissions and kills far less people in its production than coal or natural gas), wind kills birds and is "unsightly," solar is ok -- but people, we can't power our way of life on solar alone -- and if there was an actual proposal to do so, there would be opposition to that because the physical footprint you generate with solar for large projects is huge.  We can't focus on biogas generated power because that would "reward" large animal feeding operations . . . and the list goes on and on.

To be fair, not all enviros oppose all these energy types, but dig a little deeper into most enviro organizations and I'll bet you'll find that most of them have at least internal disagreements about what to support.

The point is that there seems to be an obsession with calculating every wrong impact that could come from energy source a or b, while forgetting the fact that WE WILL USE ENERGY, so the issue should be minimizing the impacts not picking a "perfect" winner that doesn't exist!

The environmental movement as a whole needs to get comfortable with the concept of a "net environmental benefit" which makes the hard choice sometimes, that while there may be damage caused by a wind turbine, lets say, its a hell of a lot less than a coal plant, so, let's all get on board with supporting wind.  Perhaps this could happen if the environmental movement diversified itself to include a few more engineers and businesspeople instead of constantly alienating them.

The exact same problem is unfolding over electric transmission.  Environmentalists want renewable energy, but not the new transmission lines it will take to bring it to electrical users.

The Wall Street Journal is doing stories on the "green tape" that holds up renewable energy projects . . . And now, we have the chamber of commerce out there calculating all the energy projects that are being blocked by environmental opposition.  The chamber of commerce is hardly a helpful ally when it comes to environmental issues.  But they have a point on this issue.  And when environmentalists oppose everything, they set their opponents up to look like the reasonable ones.

You can't be FOR the environment in theory and oppose every means to make some improvement on the ground merely because there are trade-offs.  

Life is filled with trade-offs.  The only alternative, is to do nothing -- and tell me, how is that reducing pollution? 

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