Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Obama Should Approve the Keystone Pipeline for Economic and Environmental Reasons

President Obama must soon decide on whether to approve TransCanada’s controversial Keystone Pipeline that would bring crude oil from Canada to US refineries. “The pipeline requires State Department approval because it crosses an international boundary,” AP’s Josh Lederman reports.

Leaving aside the question of whether any politician should have the power to block it in the first place, Lederman notes that “On its surface, [the Keystone decision] is a choice between the promise of jobs and economic growth and environmental concerns.” More broadly, Lederman says, Obama’s decision “may signal how he will deal with climate and energy issues in the four years ahead.”

But the widely-accepted tradeoff between what’s good for the economy vs. what’s good for the “environment” is a false one; an outgrowth of the premise that nature, untouched by human alteration, has intrinsic value. On this premise, which forms the foundation of the environmentalist movement, any and all alterations to the “natural” environment at the hands of humans is destructive, and must be curbed or eliminated as much as possible. This view, however, is destructive to human well-being.

On the premise that holds human life, rather than “untouched” nature, as the standard of value, there is no inherent conflict between economic growth and a good environment. In fact, they go hand-in-hand. As energy expert Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress notes, “fossil fuels have made our environment amazingly good.”

Yes, good. Epstein, who recently debated leading environmentalist Bill McKibben on the subject of “The Ethics of Fossil Fuels,” observes that “Every region of the world, in its undeveloped state, is full of deadly environmental hazards. . . . And yet some nations, like the US, have the best . . . overall environmental quality in human history. . . . The reason for this,” observes Epstein,

is development—the improvement of nature to meet human needs. Development means water purification systems, irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, genetically-improved crops, dams, sea walls, heating, air conditioning, sturdy homes, drained swamps, central power stations, vaccination, pharmaceuticals, and so on.

Cheap, plentiful, reliable energy drives development, Epstein notes, and coal, oil, and natural gas—the fossil fuels—provide the overwhelming quantity of that energy. While he acknowledges there are pollution risks that must be corrected, Epstein observes that “Fossil fuels have transformed hazardous natural environments the world over into healthy human environments”—and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Environmentalist zealots have for too long unjustly claimed what Epstein termed “the environmental high road.” That banner rightfully and morally belongs to the energy producers who drive our human life-enhancing industrial economy, led by the heroic fossil fuel industry.

An objective assessment of the facts supports a powerful double-barrelled argument for fossil fuels; they are economically and—on balance—environmentally beneficial to human well-being. Obama can signal his recognition of these truths by approving the Keystone Pipeline.

Related Reading:

Exploit the Earth or Die

Interview with Alex Epstein, Founder of Center for Industrial Progress

Cheers to the Heroes Driving America’s Oil and Gas Boom

Epstein to Coal Industry: Claim the "Environmental High Road"

"Fracking's" Knee-Jerk Enemies

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