New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ban on natural gas fracking in his state has environmentalists rejoicing. As the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran notes in “Cuomo’s ban on fracking handicaps the fight against climate change,” “Gov. Andrew Cuomo recaptured the hearts of liberals everywhere last week by banning hydraulic fracking of natural gas reserves in New York State.”
But Moran, a relatively moderate liberal, is perplexed:
I hate to be a Green Grinch, but this is one of the environmental movement’s blind spots. Cuomo’s decision is a disaster for the environment where it counts most – on climate change.
Fracking has created a boom in natural gas production, driving its price below that of coal. And when a power plant switches from coal to gas, its carbon emissions are cut in half. That is the key reason America’s carbon emissions have been dropping since 2006, despite the political stalemate.
Citing work by Ralph Izzo, CEO of power company Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), Moran observes:
The scientific consensus is that emissions must be cut 80 percent by the year 2050. To get there, the United States would have to eliminate all emissions from electricity, transportation, and industry.
Leaving aside the veracity of the “consensus” claim, Moran apparently understands that one can’t simply cut emissions by 80% without doing enormous economic damage, which leaves environmentalists like Daly Bryk, “the energy guru at the National Resources Defense Council,”—quoted in the article—undeterred:
Bryk knows the energy market well, and believes that we can wean ourselves from coal without fracking. She wants to redouble efforts to conserve energy, by far the cheapest way to reduce emissions. She wants a crash program to build wind and solar power. She wants a national program to cut emissions in all sectors.
In other words, Bryk wants a totalitarian state in energy—i.e., a totalitarian state. Perhaps unwilling to acknowledge that Bryk is advocating what she is advocating, Moran writes:
“It’s true that natural gas is shutting down coal plants,” [Bryk] says. “But that doesn’t mean we need to double-down on that strategy.”
What that misses is an appreciation for how far we have to go. We can’t pick and choose our favorite tools in the climate fight. We need to use them all. And even then, we’re likely to come up short.
But it is not Bryk who “misses the point.” It is Moran who does. I left these comments:
Environmentalists claim that 80% of carbon emissions must be eliminated to avoid catastrophic climate change. But that begs the questions; catastrophic, from what perspective? There are basically two perspectives; unaltered, unimpacted, undeveloped, “pristine” nature, or the survival needs of man’s life.
From an environmentalists’ non-human impact standard of value, climate change is catastrophic, because—to the extent humans are responsible for climate change—it represents human impact on “nature.” But humans survive and thrive only by impacting and altering nature. Practically, the driving force of human progress is reliable, scalable energy—the vital industry of industries—and 86% of that energy worldwide comes from fossil fuels. From a perspective of human life as a standard of value, if we reduced CO2 emissions by 80%, “catastrophic” is too mild a word to describe the carnage man would endure.
Viewed from the perspective of the environmentalists’ standard of value—the environment in its “natural” state—their position on fracking makes perfect sense. As Bryk pretty much acknowledges, natural gas simply replaces one reliable, plentiful, economical form of energy—coal—with another. Since reliable energy is the fuel for industrial progress—which means, altering the “natural” environment to human benefit—reliable energy, as such, is the enemy. If CO2 emissions really was the environmentalists’ concern, they'd not only embrace natural gas—which emits less of it—but nuclear and hydro as well—which emits none. But they don’t, because aside from fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear are the only other reliable energy forms. Environmentalists only embrace so-called “renewables” because they know that renewable energy cannot sustain industrial civilization. Their support for renewables is mere window dressing. If renewables ever became truly viable, environmentalists would turn against them, too.
Climate change is real. Humans are probably contributing. So what? On balance, fossil fuel energy is enormously beneficial to man. Humans have never been safer from, or better able to cope with, climate dangers; or lived longer; or healthier; or more prosperously; or been better fed; or had a cleaner or more sanitary environment. Shutting down carbon emissions before a viable energy replacement can be discovered, developed, and proven in a free energy market would be cruel beyond words. Environmentalists don’t care. Their standard of value is non-human impact, not the needs of man’s life. To them, reliable energy is the problem that must be reversed, regardless of the immense suffering and death energy privation will cause man. That would eliminate electricity, transportation, and industry? Precisely the point. That’s why Cuomo’s ban on fracking will not handicap the fight against climate change. The environmentalists’ fight is against man-made climate change—cost no object—not climate change. As evidence, I give you this article.
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein (Chapter 1, The Secret History of Fossil Fuels, available free. I am indebted to Epstein for identifying the fundamentally competing standards of value—environmentalist vs the humanist—at work in the energy debate.)