Environmentalism And The Leisure Class


This week President Obama handed down what may prove to be one of the most fateful decisions of his entire administration when he rejected the plan to build the Keystone XL Pipeline carrying oil from the tar sands of Canada to the refineries of Houston. The decision did not win him one new vote but was crucial in protecting his environmental flank. The movie stars and Sierra Club contributors were getting restless and had drawn the line in the sand.

In turning down Keystone, however, the President has uncovered an ugly little secret that has always lurked beneath the surface of environmentalism. Its basic appeal is to the affluent. Despite all the professions of being “liberal” and “against big business,” environmentalism’s main appeal is that it promises to slow the progress of industrial progress. People who are already comfortable with the present state of affairs — who are established in the environment, so to speak — are happy to go along with this. It is not that they have any greater insight into the mysteries and workings of nature. They are happier with the way things are. In fact, environmentalism works to their advantage. The main danger to the affluent is not that they will be denied from improving their estate but that too many other people will achieve what they already have. As the Forest Service used to say, the person who built his mountain cabin last year is an environmentalist. The person who wants to build one this year is a developer.

Environmentalism has spent three decades trying to hide this simple truth. How can environmentalists be motivated by self-interest when they are anti-business? Doesn’t that align them with the working classes? Well, not quite. You can be anti-business as a union member trying to claim higher wages but you can also be anti-business as a member of the aristocracy who believes “trade” and “commercialism” are crass and not attuned to the higher things in life. Environmentalism is born from the latter, not the former. It has spent decades trying to pretend it has common cause with the working people. With the defeat of the Keystone Pipeline, this is no longer possible. Too many blue-collar and middle-class jobs have been sacrificed on the altar of carbon emissions and global warming.

In 1977, I wrote a cover story for Harper’s called “Environmentalism and the Leisure Class,” my first story for a national magazine. Environmentalism was very young at the time — born supposedly on Earth Day in 1970 — but had already achieved a seat in the upper echelons of the Carter Administration. These freshly appointed bureaucrats began canceling dams, preaching the sins of fossil fuels, and raising obstacles to nuclear power. In its place they promised distant, over-the-horizon technologies of wind and solar energy. I remember one iconic photograph of Andrew Young, Carter’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, holding a pyramid over his head on Earth Day in the fashionable superstition that pyramids had mysterious powers to concentrate the sun’s rays.

My story in Harper’s was built around the devastating 1977 New York City blackout (the subject of the book The Bronx is Burning) and the almost forgotten fact that Con Edison had been trying for 15 years to construct an upstate power plant designed to prevent blackouts. The Storm King Mountain facility was a pumped storage plant 40 miles up the Hudson that stored power overnight by pumping water uphill and then releasing it the next day to generate hydroelectricity. The idea was to avoid building more coal plants in New York City. As an added attraction, the utility never failed to mention, the floodgates could be opened in an instant to provide power in the event of an emergency, while ordinary generators took the better part of an hour to get up to speed.

Read More at The American Spectator  By William Tucker, The American Spectator


Let us know what you think!