For fair-minded people who want to examine the data, there are important studies on the liberal policies that cause higher unemployment and greater incidents of family breakdown. Since Charles Murray’s ground-breaking study Losing Ground (1984), numerous scholars have revealed the failure of liberal social policies. Sadly, many of today’s environmentalist activists are equally, or even more, destructive. There are too many environmental activists promoting policies that hurt people.
Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts and Fallacies argues that critics of land development often fail to do cost-benefit analysis and they exaggerate the decline of agricultural land. Most of us appreciate our beautiful natural spaces and we desire intelligent conservation, but let us examine the numbers more carefully. In the United States, “less than five percent of the land area is developed, and forests alone cover six times as much land as all the cities and towns in the country put together” (Sowell, 16).
The basic principle of supply and demand is telling. Land use restrictions cause very high prices for housing, and where I live (near Toronto, Canada) green policies have played a role in preventing many people from owning their own homes.
An important book that exposes one particular harmful influence of green activism is Ezra Levant, Groundswell: The Case for Fracking (2014). In operation since the late 1940s, fracking is the process of injecting large volumes of water into the earth to release shale-gas deposits. The recent combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has “revolutionized the natural gas industry” resulting in historic lows for the price of natural gas (Levant, 5). In 2009, new fracking technology meant falling prices for those jurisdictions embracing the revolution.
It has an ugly name, but fracking “is the hottest job-creator in America and has reduced the cost of nearly everything that needs energy to run” (5). By 2013, natural gas sold in the United States “for a third of the price of European rates and one-fifth of the price in Asia” (15).
Green activists are unhappy because this natural gas revolution – offering plentiful, inexpensive, and clean energy – shines brightly compared to the prohibitively expensive energy of wind and solar (which require massive government subsidies).
Actually, more environmentalists should celebrate fracking and the abundance of natural gas (less dependence on coal) that has “prompted a rapid and substantial shift in the American energy economy away from other, less optimal fuel types and toward cleaner, lower-emission natural gas” (23). U.S. greenhouse gas emissions declined in 2012 to levels not seen since the early 1990s.
Explaining the decline, Harvard professor Jeffrey Frankel declared: “The primary explanation, in a word, is ‘fracking’” (113). Cheap natural gas did what “climate summits” and “renewable strategies” failed to do. The crowd who want people to embrace bicycles and windmills should give more attention to the reality of making “decisions between imperfect choices” (25).
Green activists want to see the death of any type of fossil fuel energy even if that is bad news for cash-strapped folk who prefer affordable energy to heat their homes, keep their lights on, and drive their cars. More money spent on green energy means less money for food, clothing, and education.
Levant writes that outspoken opponents to anti-carbon environmentalists include the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). Decades ago CORE fought for civil rights, today it fights environmentalists who want people to switch to expensive renewable energy:
It’s a CORE issue because in the United States, it’s black people who make up the largest ethnic group living in poverty, and CORE considers the environmentalist war against affordable energy a ‘war on the poor’ – a war whose victims are largely black. The low-income Americans that CORE is worried about spend the highest proportion of their income on heating and gas (21).
Unlike countless people, well-to-do environmentalists (with privileged lifestyles), and especially rich liberals and Hollywood stars, can afford expensive energy.
Fracking has also offered hope for poorer nations, including European countries that pay high prices for natural gas from Russia (notably the energy monopoly of Gazprom). If a fracking revolution takes hold in Europe, Russia loses much business. In the 1980s communists funded peace activists of the western world and today Gazprom funds anti-fracking environmental groups.
Of the over 40 countries in the world that have shale-gas deposits, poorer nations such as Lithuania, Ukraine, and Poland have much to gain by developing their natural gas resources. In 2012, Poland paid “eight times more for its Russian Gazprom gas than American utilities were paying at Louisiana’s Henry Hub” (121). And we know the history of oppression in Ukraine and Lithuania at the hands of Russian leaders. World-wide, fracking will allow poorer people to experience a higher standard of living for their families.
But is fracking environmentally safe? Groundswell devotes considerable attention to this question. There is much anti-fracking propaganda, but there is no evidence of fracking causing groundwater contamination. In the past 60 years, tens of thousands of hydraulic fracturing operations took place in Oklahoma. But in this state and all other American states, there is no documentation of groundwater contamination due to fracking (67, 69). Fracking also uses “less water to produce more energy than any of the fuel alternatives” (80). And we know the sad stories of wind turbines. With fracking “there is no constant humming, vibration, or visual ugliness; no daily harvest of unlucky birds and bats; no 400-foot-high metal monstrosity in what was once a cornfield” (139).
Of course, affordable energy is a good thing for low-income people. Fracking can “provide the world with cheap, plentiful, clean energy, freeing consumers – and even countries – from OPEC cartels” (217). Green activists desire to crush the shale-gas revolution, but there will be many people in various jurisdictions unwilling to trade warm homes for environmental idealism.