Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Jersey Conservation Foundation vs. Our Life-Enhancing Energy Needs

The New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) has published “An Open Letter to Residents of New Jersey” on its website under the heading Pipeline proposals threaten land across NJ. Take action! The letter occupies a full page ad in the October 1, 2015 edition of the Hunterdon County Democrat, a bi-weekly county newspaper covering an area affected by the PennEast company’s proposed natural gas pipeline.*

An Open Letter to Residents of New Jersey:
Privately-owned PennEast – a consortium including PSEG, South Jersey Industries, New Jersey Resources and UGI - is planning to tear up 4,000 acres of central New Jersey’s preserved and historic lands and farmlands, private property, and some of the state’s cleanest, most ecologically significant waterways.
Every New Jersey town and county along PennEast's path has officially objected to the proposed pipeline. It would damage and scar our land, contaminate our air and water, and put communities at risk of a potential explosion.
Pipelines like PennEast set us behind in our drive for a clean energy future. Let’s move towards an energy future that's clean, green and renewed by nature every day. Let's build a legacy to be proud of. Say "No" to PennEast!

This letter speaks volumes about environmentalists’ moral standards and their confidence in their “clean energy” cause.

The first paragraph establishes the environmentalist premise that land must be “preserved” from industrial development. What about preserving humans’ access to the reliable energy vital to their lives and well-being? That’s not the concern of environmentalists.

Nor are private property rights a concern of environmentalists, as the first paragraph seems to indicate.**

The inclusion of private property in the list of lands it doesn’t want “torn up” is a hollow concern. Environmentalists routinely fight tooth and nail against developmental projects on private land when the purpose is something they disapprove of. Consider their fight to stop hydraulic fracturing, which is mostly done on private property. Defending private property just happens, in the pipeline case, to dovetail with the aim to stop the PennEast pipeline. But you don’t see the NJCF coming to the defense of Solberg Airport in Readington Township, which has been waging an expensive legal fight against the municipal government’s effort there to seize Solberg land through eminent domain for the purposes of “preserving” the land from potential future development. (See my posts on the Solberg taking.)

If someone proposed to build a string of windmills along the proposed path of the PennEast pipeline, with the interconnecting access roads and powerlines, would the Conservation Foundation be there railing against the taking of preserved lands or defending the rights of private property owners. One doubts it, if one can take at face value the Foundation’s seriousness about advancing “clean energy.” (That’s a big “if”)*** The NJCF’s primary goal is to stop the delivery of fossil fuel energy to consumers, not to prevent protect private property owners’ rights.

Now consider the second paragraph. The NJCF claims that pipelines will “contaminate our air and water, and put communities at risk of a potential explosion.” But prior to fossil fueled industrialization, our air was dirtier and clean water was much harder to come by. And yes, there are risks, including the risk of explosion. But what about the risks of not having pipelines? If zero risk is the standard, then man should never have harnessed fire. Zero risk means zero human progress—and lives that are short, brutish, and danger-filled. (I addressed the issues of water and risk, among other issues, in a submittal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the PennEast project. As to air, the Environmental Protection Agency’s own data show our air getting progressively cleaner even as fossil fuel use increases. See below:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 11.52.07 AMAs this chart shows, air pollution is a very manageable side effect of fossil fuel use. This chart courtesy of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein)

The last paragraph says volumes about environmentalists’ confidence in “clean energy.” If solar and wind are so good as a competitive alternative to reliable, economical fossil fuels, why is it necessary to use government coercion to stop PennEast and other companies from building pipelines? Wouldn’t the market for the energy such pipelines deliver dry up in the face of consumers’ switching to “clean” energy sources, thus destroying any incentive to invest in pipelines?

Government coercion wasn’t needed for consumers to switch from film photography to digital photography; from rotary dial phones to cell phones; from mainframe computers to minicomputers and then to personal computers; from carbon paper to copying machines; from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. Across the economy and over time, in thousands of examples, better products and technologies replaced older, inferior ones. Why, then, the need for a movement to use stop the adoption of “clean energy?” Won’t consumers voluntarily switch from conventional energy sources to “clean” energy as enthusiastically as they made myriad other technological switches? Environmentalists know the answer. That’s why they turn to government coercion.

Today, we’re told that so-called “renewable” energy—mainly solar and wind—is far superior to “dirty” fossil fuels. So, why doesn’t the environmental movement leave the energy market free, so that renewables can supplant the older, inferior energy technologies on the merits? Why do they push for coercive government policies to hamper and destroy fossil fuel energy? Because they know that, left free to choose, consumers will opt for reliable, economic energy; namely, for today and for the foreseeable future, that means fossil fuels. Fossil’s enemies know that renewables, as a source of reliable economical energy, are crap. Yet, environmentalists’ don’t care, because their standard of value is not human life and well-being. They care about unaltered nature. They care about avoiding environmental alteration. Their philosophy toward their fellow human beings is captured in the John Denver hit song “Rocky Mountain High,” which laments, “more people, more scars upon the land.” That’s how they view human life-advancing industrial development.

And if renewables fail to live up to the environmentalists’ quasi-religious faith that solar and wind can supplant fossils, what will the environmentalists reaction to the resultant monumental human suffering from the energy deprivation? They don’t consider that very real potentiality. Human well-being is not their concern.

To concretize the moral alternative involved more dramatically, consider this picture of a pipeline project under construction posted on the New Jersey Conservation Foundation page linked to above (Pipeline proposals threaten land across NJ. Take action!)

What feelings or thoughts come to mind when you see this photo?

I get feelings of happiness and appreciation for those who construct such energy projects. I think of the motive power that runs the machines that feed us when we are hungry, medicate us when we are sick, warm us in winter, cool us in the heat of summer, enable safe and convenient transportation, enable instant communication to virtually anywhere on Earth, bring clean water to our faucets, dispose of harmful wastes, protect us as never before from extreme weather and other climate-related dangers, cleanly illuminate us at night, and myriad other benefits we take for granted. I think of the energy of human life, available affordably whenever we need it, without interruption. I don’t see a scar. Rather, I see in that pipeline project—in its own way—a thing of beauty, because of how immensely better our lives are made by the energy that will flow through the pipeline that will lie beneath what environmentalists see as a scar.

But that picture is not intended by the Conservation Foundation to elicit such positive feelings and thoughts. It is intended to elicit disgust and revulsion. It is intended to inspire thoughts of “damage and scars to our lands,” along with resentment and hostility toward the builders. It is intended to appeal to nihilists.

When I look at that picture, I see man the hero. The publication of that picture by the NJCF is intended to elicit a difference response—a vision of man the villain. My reaction to seeing that picture is rooted in my respect for human life and well-being. What, then, is the motivation behind the posting of that picture?

Many people, of course, may simply not have too many thoughts one way or another, simply seeing part of the norm; another construction project. That is a mistake, because the battle over that pipeline is a battle over energy, which is a battle involving average people's’ health and well-being. But we all should think about the energy issue, because it’s a matter of flourishing vs. destitution, life vs. death.

Of course, we should always keep the full context—the “big picture”—in mind. We may not like the disturbance to the land, so we may like to see it restored as much as possible to its natural state once the pipeline is complete and buried. Impacts on the natural environment need not be wanton. But environmentalists enemies of fossil fuels don’t see the big picture. They brush aside the vital energy positives of fossil fuels, and focus only on the negative side effects; side effects that are dwarfed by the positives and which are within our technological ability to minimize and alleviate. From the perspective of human life as the moral standard, building this energy infrastructure takes precedence over preserving—meaning non-development—of the land. From the perspective of the environmentalists’ standards, stopping pipelines is a must, regardless of the consequences to human life.

Environmentalists’ standards forbid concern for the human benefits of the pipeline, because human life is not their standard. Non-impact is their standard. They don’t just oppose negative impacts. They oppose impact as such, on principle. Such a standard compels environmentalists to oppose the pipeline. At least for the intellectual leaders of the environmentalist movement, worries about waterways and climate change—and the love affair with “clean” energy—are window dressing. The name of the institution circulating the “Open Letter to Residents of New Jersey” has “conservation” in its name for a reason: It wants to conserve land. Conserve from what, for what? Conserve from industrial development, for nature.

The Conservation Foundation’s open letter complains that “Pipelines like PennEast set us behind in our drive for a clean energy future.” But no one has ever proposed stopping research, development, and installation of solar, wind, other other so-called “renewable” energy. It is renewables champions who are trying to set us behind, by using government legal coercion to stop pipelines.


* In September, 2015, PennEast formally submitted its application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval to build the pipeline.

** One conundrum pro-liberty supporters of energy infrastructures face with regard to pipelines is that pipeline approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency charged with the responsibility of approving or disapproving energy projects, carries with it the power of eminent domain, under which pipeline builders can force private property owners to sell them the rights-of-way they need to build and maintain the pipeline. That is a subject for another day. See my post Untangling the PennEast Pipeline Rights Conundrum

*** That’s a big “if.” As the wind energy industry grows, so does environmentalist opposition to massive wind farms. The reasons; threats to birds, views, and even—get this—climate. Click here and here. If your an anti-industrial revolutionary, you will oppose any form of energy that becomes economical, semi-reliable, and an important source of power.

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