By Michael Lynch
Several decades ago, there was a joke that went around about a group of environmentalists who were visiting the governor’s office to discuss energy supplies with him/her. “We can’t use coal, it’s just too dirty,” they said. “Oil comes from the Middle East and is insecure, nuclear creates long-lived waste, and natural gas supplies are scarce. Hydro is unacceptable because of the large footprint.” “Well,” asked the governor, “what should we use?” After thinking briefly, one of the environmentalists pipes up, “How about electricity? That’s clean!”
The astute will have noted that solar and wind were not mentioned, which dates the joke to the 1980s, but the reality is that there is now no source of energy that does not meet opposition. In Massachusetts, a state so liberal that it voted for McGovern over Nixon (what were they thinking?), solar, wind, biomass and hydro have all met strong political opposition from a variety of citizens’ groups, ad hoc and more formal. About the only source which hasn’t met criticism is rooftop solar, arguably the most expensive source of energy.
Some attribute this wave of activism to NIMBYism (Not In My BackYard) or a BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) philosophy but an economist might have a slightly different interpretation. The concept of a Pareto Optimal solution was designed to describe something which benefits some and harms no one. Now, it seems, there should be a new Pareto Maximal, where everyone must benefit to allow a project or policy to proceed.
This can be seen in the case of a proposed natural gas pipeline expansion in Western Massachusetts, which is needed to improve supply and bring down peak prices. Among other things, opponents have decried the possibility that the natural gas would be exported overseas, citing that as a reason why it should not be permitted. Aside from the fact that there is no natural gas export terminal within hundreds of miles of Massachusetts, this is clearly a case of a “what’s in it for me?” attitude, which is a terrible, but not uncommon, way to make public policy.
The problem for companies is that few opponents will admit that they want a payoff, even if it is disguised as social welfare of some sort. By pretending that they are protecting the environment, and further, that such protection must be absolute, they have set a difficult if not impossible hurdle.
And one that is illogical, if not foolish, rather like the Food Babe saying she doesn’t want chemicals in her food. To many, the world is a Garden of Eden, still untouched and pristine, and no steps should be taken to change that. (Of course, the real Garden of Eden was apparently located in the most oil-rich region of the planet, so that Adam and Eve would have been exposed to oil seeps and hydrocarbon emissions.)
Fracking opponents say they fear any petroleum contamination even as they drive automobiles, anti-pipeline agitators in Massachusetts denounce the addition of one hundred miles of pipeline to the existing five thousand mile network, and biomass plants with sophisticated emissions controls are opposed even as tens of thousands of home-owners fire up wood stoves.
To continue reading, click here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaellynch/2015/09/17/energy-and-the-new-luddites/