The Environment Is A Luxury Item 12.16.2005

From the Captain's Quarters: Ask Not What Windmills Do To My View ...
One of the more laughable hypocrisies of the environmental movement has been the proposed windmill farm called the Cape Wind project. The proposal involves the installation of hundreds of windmills in an area that should capture enough power to generate a significant amount of clean energy -- the kind of energy that environmentalists normally insist be part of our future. Most of the time, this kind of government spending gets high marks from limousine liberals like Rep. Robert Kennedy Jr, but not when the project gets built where their limousines park, as Kennedy's fine NIMBY whine in today's New York Times explains:...
Go read the whole thing then come back here. Don't worry; I'll be here, and I'll even explain the provocative title.

Read it? Okay, to explain the title...

Kennedy's rant in the New York Times pretty much proves a point I made a long time ago in another forum that the Environment and Environmentalism is actually, from an economic perspective, a luxury item. Now by "luxury item" I don't mean to dismiss the environment as a frivolous expense. What I mean is that environmentalism--that is, preserving the environment and enjoying the environment that is preserved--is an additional expense that poor people cannot afford to spend money on.

Now those who argue against this proposition point to Native Americans as "evidence" that a primitive (and effectively poor) people who live without technology can live with a small environmental footprint. However, being a Native American myself, I can state categorically that my ancestors were not environmentally "friendly"; they were trying to survive. And my Salinan ancestors thought nothing of burning the Salinan valley's oak trees to the ground and moving into the Tulare area for a few years while the oak trees (the major source of food for the Salinan people) regrew. There are other stories of plains Indians driving entire herds of buffalo off a cliff so they could extract the meat from a handful--leaving a few thousand carcasses to rot in the sun, and archaeological evidence suggests the woolly mammoth was driven to extinction by ancient (pre-technological) man.

And today, while we are constantly fed a diet of modern industrial bulldozers wiping out the amazon rain forest for greedy corporations, the reality is that most of the acreage being lost are lost to native Amazonians engaging in farming and raising cattle. In essence, native pre-technological Indians in Brazil are doing what native pre-technological Indians in America did: try to improve their lot, and to hell with the environment, which was too expensive for them to maintain anyways.

Now the solution to deforestation in the Amazon is actually simple: provide Brazilians other acreage for them to farm and ranch. The problem is that for most of Brazil that is not in the rain forest, Brazil would need to solve the same problem that plagues most of the United States: farming needs lots of cheap fresh water. Unless you're in the rain forest (where rain is the supply of badly needed water), you need to irrigate, which means building expensive dams and expensive canals and water pumping stations.

That takes money and wealth the Brazillians simply do not have.

Kennedy's rant only illustrates the idea of preserving the ecology of a region as a "rich-man's game" in spectacular technicolor.

The cheapest way to capture energy from the wind off the Nantucket Sound--cheapest in terms of human labor, not in terms of land value--would be to bulldoze the various cute little bungalos and sprawling estates that belong to the wealthy elite that live on Martha's Vineyard and erect tall windmills in their place. But because we have managed to generate such tremendous wealth in the United States, Kennedy--in order to preserve his view--has suggested to move the windmills much farther off shore, where the environmental impact of their construction may do more damage than simply building another low-sulpher coal-fired electric plant alongside some existing generation plants. It certainly would have a much bigger environmental impact than drilling in ANWR. (Keep in mind we're talking about constructing thousands of windmills--which take it's own environmental toll--and dragging them out to sea, erecting large platforms deep in the oceans and bolting these things to the ocean floor. All of this causes significant damage to the oceans.)

So long as Environmentalism blindly ignores the fact that preserving the Environment basically means permanently setting aside hugh swaths of resources that could otherwise be exploited (such as ANWR) so we can preserve the view of some of the prettiest places on earth so the wealthy who can travel can enjoy those views--and the wealthiest can buy compounds next to the Kennedys on Martha's Vineyard and enjoy the view year round--we will never calculate the true cost of Environmentalism.

And without calculating the true cost, we will never be able to make the most economically sound choices that allow us to preserve the most environment we can at the smallest total cost to mankind.

In Kennedy's case, if he is so damned hell-bent on preserving his view, then I say let him. But at least he can admit the fact that he is sabotaging developing a particular resource (wind power, which questionably doesn't produce enough power to offset it's total cost in loss of pristine views and construction costs and environmental damage due to construction) so he can preserve the view from his bedroom. And instead of spending another half-billion dollars in U.S. subsidies (which is what it would probably cost to implement Kennedy's suggestion to move the wind mills farther off-shore), he can admit that perhaps that half billion could be used somewhere else.

A half billion dollars is a lot of money to spent to preserve someone's view from their own back yard...

posted by William Woody at 10:30 AM

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A moderate conservative living in the left coast, surrounded by the sureal, wonders if there is a sane life living amongst those who have lost touch with reality.

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