Editorial: Overcoming the Neanderthals

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera represents the guy environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, former NASA scientist James Hansen and 350.org supporters around the world have to debunk and then re-educate. Shockingly, his editors at the Times still allow him to write on energy topics as if he has a clue.
He doesn’t. Such proof was demonstrated in his NYT opinion column of Feb. 20 when he discredits the protests over the tar sands pipeline: “If you really want to eliminate expensive new fossil fuel sources (like tar sands in Alberta, Canada), the best way is to lower the price of oil, which would render them (tar sands) uneconomical.”
Then he chides the very notion of trying to convince the world to do anything for the planet’s future that doesn’t accept the reality of cheap energy, which in his mind trumps all: “the environmental assumption …is that by choking off the supply of new oil sources like the tar sands, the U.S., and the rest of the world, will be forced to switch more quickly to green energy… Can you see how backward this logic is?” The obvious answer, he says, is that the “emphasis should be on demand, not supply. If the U.S. stopped consuming so much of the world’s oil, the economic need for the tar sands would evaporate.”
With demand around the world increasing, that’s only partially true, but he also misses the big picture. Cheap oil increases demand and encourages more wasteful consumption, not vice-versa. That’s a point he concedes but doesn’t address. He doesn’t address it because he sees no way around it. Cheap fuel is king in his world,  and even the notion of saving the world (by slowing down and reversing global warming and all the climate change ramifications that follow) takes a second seat to the dynamics of fuel cost. The question he asks through a surrogate is: “Can environmental groups expect to win a series of fights for decades to come, when the economic forces are aligned very strongly against them in each round?”
The obvious answer, he says, is no.
McKibben, Hansen and hundreds of thousands of activists who hope to save the planet before it’s too late, have made it their cause to do exactly that. They believe Americans, and hopefully others throughout the world, will come to understand the full costs of high-carbon fuels to the environment and will encourage their government to demand fuel companies collect a carbon tax to help fund the billions in annual repairs to the national infrastructure caused by “freak” storm damage that scientists are attributing to climate change. When those costs are added to the mix, measures that reduce the release of carbon dioxide in the air by burning fuel will one day be seen as more cost effective to society than cheap oil or gas.
It’s a battle of short-term thinking vs. long-term, of believing the health of the planet (economic as well as aethetic) has greater value than cheap fuel.
Nocera, in short, represents the Neanderthal perspective that environmental activists have to overcome if the species is to evolve.
Angelo S. Lynn

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