Why Greens should be thankful for the new oil and gas future of the United States

Of course, there aren’t thankful at all, in fact they hate it and are trying to stop it. But the Green goddess Gaia is a treacherous slut; she has made so much oil and gas that her Green worshipers cannot stop the shale gas revolution, nor deep water oil drilling either. The U.S. has abundant oil and gas reserves that will keep all of us warm in winter and mobile in our cars in the summer while freeing us from our dependence on Middle East oil.  There just isn’t much the Green movement is ultimately going to be able to do about that. We Americans all love a beautiful and healthy environment, we are glad to partake of its bounty in the most responsible and ecological way possible. Up to a point, that is. We will not willingly freeze in the dark out of a commitment to environmentalism because “environmentalism is a luxury good,” according to this recent essay by Walter Russell Mead: The Energy Revolution 4: Hot Planet?

The newly bright oil and gas future of the United States means that we will burn less coal. The Greens, if they really were sensible protectors of the environment, would be thankful for this since oil is cleaner than coal, and natural gas is a big heap cleaner than coal. The Green dreams of a solar and wind utopia would lead to an energy dearth that Americans would not tolerate for long, and environmentalism would suffer greatly. In short, their own success would ultimately be the undoing of the Green movement. As Walter Russell Mead puts it:

People must survive and they will survive by any means necessary. But they would much rather thrive than merely survive, and if they can arrange matters better, they will. A poor society near the edge of survival will dump the industrial waste in the river without a second thought. It will burn coal and choke in the resulting smog if it has nothing else to burn.

Politics in an age of survival is ugly and practical. It has to be. The best leader is the one who can cut out all the fluff and the folderol and keep you alive through the winter. During the Battle of Leningrad, people burned priceless antiques to stay alive for just one more night.

An age of energy shortages and high prices translates into an age of radical food and economic insecurity for billions of people. Those billions of hungry, frightened, angry people won’t fold their hands and meditate on the ineffable wonders of Gaia and her mystic web of life as they pass peacefully away. Nor will they vote George Monbiot and Bill McKibben into power. They will butcher every panda in the zoo before they see their children starve, they will torch every forest on earth before they freeze to death, and the cheaper and the meaner their lives are, the less energy or thought they will spare to the perishing world around them.

But, thanks to shale and other unconventional energy sources, that isn’t where we are headed. We are heading into a world in which energy is abundant and horizons are open even as humanity’s grasp of science and technology grows more secure. A world where more and more basic human needs are met is a world that has time to think about other goals and the money to spend on them. As China gets richer, the Chinese want cleaner air, cleaner water, purer food — and they are ready and able to pay for them. A Brazil whose economic future is secure can afford to treasure and conserve its rain forests. A Central America where the people are doing all right is more willing and able to preserve its biodiversity. And a world in which people know where their next meal is coming from is a world that can and will take thought for things like the sustainability of the fisheries and the protection of the coral reefs.

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