Economics

Greens Are Reds

And Republicans need to prove it to voters.

By From the May 2014 issue

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I would like to modestly propose that it is time for conservatives to combat the most economically dangerous and statist movement in the world today, and it is not socialism. It is the modern-day green movement, which is not run by people who primarily want to keep the air we breathe and the water we drink clean, or safeguard endangered species like tigers and bald eagles, or prevent urban blight—every sane person is for those things. Its guiding principle is instead to impede economic growth, material progress, and capitalism.

As the saying goes, green is the new red. The environmental movement has been hijacked by those who worship the created and not the creator. They regard industrialization as retrograde, resource extraction as evil, and human beings as net destroyers of the planet. I remember several years ago reading an article by a prominent environmentalist who said Earth’s greatest problem is that mankind has no natural predator. In other words, it is a global curse that human beings sit atop the food chain.

Just in February, leading environmental groups held a rally against liquid-natural gas terminals and the Keystone XL pipeline, both of which are necessary to export natural gas. Groups like the Environmental Defense Fund argue out loud that America would be better off keeping its resources buried in the ground, even though the shale gas revolution has done more to reduce U.S. carbon emissions than all of the windmills built since the Middle Ages.

The greens are, in short, against almost all forms of electric power, except those that are prohibitively expensive. They are against oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and hydro, which together account about 90 percent of our electric power production. They want wind and solar energy, which produce about 3 percent of our electricity and aren’t even green. We’d have to pave over entire states and vast stretches of desert with solar panels to produce enough electricity to power our $18 trillion economy. We’d have to drop windmills—whose blades already Cuisinart more than 83,000 hunting birds, such as falcons and eagles, every year—on every hill, plain, and coastline. The entire wilderness would be industrialized with these inefficient contraptions.

But somehow it’s “cool” to be green. Half of Fortune 100 companies advertise how green they are, because executives think it makes them “good corporate citizens.” Even the oil and gas companies, such as Chevron and BP, polish their images, talking about anything but oil and gas. Instead of defending their product, which provides the power that makes everything else—cell phones, microwaves, automobiles, hell, all of modernity—possible, they blush and look the other way. Maybe they should start warning Americans, especially young ones, about what could happen if the green lunatics get their way, when rolling blackouts make the lights and iPods go dark. 

They’re not likely to do this, which is why conservatives should do it for them. In reality, green is not cool; green is retrograde. The greatest empowering, life-saving, and prosperity-creating invention perhaps of all time, electric power, is a blessing, not an evil. Saying otherwise is the rhetoric of lunatics and dingbats. Enviros often hold rallies asking Americans to turn off all their electric appliances and gadgets for an hour. Sure. Fine. But they’ll never abstain from those crucial devices for longer—say, a day, or a week, or a month.

So how can we awaken Americans to the insanity of modern greens? The best line of attack might be to expose them as power-grabbing elitists, whose policies would do grievous harm to the poor and disadvantaged that they pretend to care about. Let me explain: The dirty little secret of the modern environmental movement is that it has become a luxury good for the uber-rich. Its policies—from carbon taxes, to renewable energy standards, to crushing regulations on coal plants—would impose high costs on the people who can least afford to pay the green tab.

A Pew Research Center poll released in March offered further confirmation of this truth. It found that only two major voting groups oppose the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline: Democrats who make more than $100,000 annually and Dems with a college or advanced degree. The latter group opposes the pipeline by a 51-35 percent margin—further evidence that a Ph.D. is negatively associated with economic common sense. Keystone won’t benefit millionaires or university professors much. Lower electric utility costs and hiring from the oil and gas drilling bonanza throughout North America hasn’t materially affected their lives. Few lawyers or community organizers will ever deign to stoop so low as to take one of these blue-collar jobs.

This is a huge and problematic fault line inside the usually unified Democratic Party. For working-class, hardhat Democrats, a construction project that would create about 5,000 jobs with salaries of $70,000 or more, reduce American dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and cut our trade deficit is close to being a no-brainer. Among Americans outside the White House and the headquarters of the Environmental Defense Fund, supporters of the pipeline outnumber opponents by more than two to one. One study found that the natural gas boom has saved low-income families more than $4 billion a year in utility and heating costs. For the financially pinched poor and middle class, drilling is a godsend—and they want more of it.

One wonders whether wealthy liberals even understand that the green diktats they favor regressive taxes on the poor. Do they care? Environmentalists used to fantasize that their policy mandates would lead to “green jobs” for working men and women, but that bubble popped awfully fast. Just ask the Germans, who are ditching expensive green wind and solar projects as fast as they can to save their flagging economy.

The Left’s opposition to domestic energy production in America—and more broadly, a carbon-based industrial economy—offers conservatives and Republicans a once-in-a-generation opportunity to win back the old Reagan Democrat swing voters, perhaps for the long haul. These are middle-class, blue-collar workers who care about their families and their jobs, not the snail darter or the prairie chicken. They have no interest in closing down steel plants and coal mines and oil operations just to send all these jobs to India, Russia, and China. The jobs that the greens are trying to outsource are their jobs. What Nancy Pelosi and her Sierra Club friends don’t understand is that after five years of Obama’s green “investments” and nearly 20 million unemployed or underemployed, most Americans are much more interested in saving their jobs than the planet.

Republicans need to connect the dots for middle-class voters: The greatest threat to their livelihood is radical environmentalism. Blue-collar Americans should reject the green agenda. The job they save may be their own. 

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About the Author

Stephen Moore is the chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.