Environmentalists’ Anti-Human Bias

solar farm

image source vtdigger.org

As I wrote in my last post, on May 15, there were two stories on the WCAX news that jumped out at me. In that post, I wrote about the first, the story about the bottled water ban on the UVM campus. The second was a story about the debate over so-called green or renewable energy leading up to a vote on an energy bill in the Vermont Senate.

I have written a few times about Vermont’s crazy energy policy. In one of the posts, I quoted the local paper about the impact of Vermont’s renewable energy mandates, which require utilities to buy up to 15% of their peak power from renewable sources. Not only are they required to obtain energy from these sources, they must buy it at rates far above, often more than double, that of other sources. The result of these mandates is electricity rates some 35% higher than the national average not to mention higher taxes to pay for the subsidies need to make these renewable projects possible in the first place. To add insult to injury, the supposed effect of these renewable energy mandates on the climate is undetectable. Just as with the bottled water ban story, this hasn’t daunted the environmentalists who still push for higher and higher levels of “renewable” energy regardless of the very real costs imposed. (Unless you count, which I do not, the symbolism of Vermont “leading the way.”)

As damaging as these mandates and their resultant higher energy prices are to human flourishing, where the environmentalists’ real anti-human bias shows itself is when attempts are made to scale these preferred “green” sources of energy to a size that might meet the energy needs of Vermonters. (I will ignore for this post the fact that such sources are intermittent, and no storage mechanism currently exists to cover the downtime.) And this brings me back to the news story from the 15th. The story deals with the passage by the Vermont Senate of an energy bill and how it was almost derailed by a debate over the siting of wind and solar projects. Or rather, which parties should have more say on where, or if, these projects are built.

On one side of the debate there appear to be those lawmakers whose constituents have not yet been directly impacted by these solar and wind projects. Due to the diffuse nature of the energy involved, these projects tend to be quite large in area. These lawmakers claim that we must sacrifice the cheap, abundant energy required for human flourishing in the name of “protecting the environment, and that the demands of “the common good” requires “statewide planning,” i.e. it requires the state-wide collective telling property owner what he will be permitted or not permitted to do with his property.

On the other side are the representatives of people who live within sight or sound of these projects and can see first hand the impact they have.  They feel that even the expensive, unreliable green energy sources, already insufficient to provide for human flourishing, must be sacrificed in the name of protecting the environment and that the regional and town planning commissions should have more of a say in what projects are approved, i.e. a local collective telling the individual property owner how he can or cannot use his property.

While the two sides have some superficial differences, they are fundamentally the same. Neither party believes that the individual should be allowed to determine, based on their reason, how to use their property. If the collective, local or state-wide, decides that the individual should not use his property in a certain way, then the property owner will be prohibited from doing so. If the collective decides to use an individual’s property in a certain way, they will use eminent domain to take the property for that use if the owner doesn’t agree.

The two sides agree that the standard by which a project is to be judged is the impact on the environment. Not negative impacts on the human environment, but impacts on the environment as such. It is under such a standard that we should abandon fossil fuels despite the overwhelming positive effects they have had on the environment humans actually live in. Imagine trying to live through the winter Vermont just had without heating oil or gasoline to power the plows and trucks that delivered the food you ate.  It is under such a standard that all green energy will be opposed when it is scaled to a meaningful size. Hydro is being opposed in favor of the fish, trees or merely the “water resources.” Wind is being opposed because it harms the birds and bats or simply because they spoil the view. Solar is beginning to be opposed if it impacts the habitat of a desert tortoise or it kills birds or simply because some people do not want to look at a solar farm.

The simple fact is that human beings survive by impacting nature. Unlike animals that adapt themselves to their environment, human beings change the environment to suit their needs. Where animals grow a warm fur coat and or hibernate to survive harsh winters, human beings they build houses and heat them using the resources found in nature. As Alex Epstein puts it in the clip below, “In every endeavor in life you have to be clear on what is your primary purpose, what is the thing you are optimizing for, and then what is the secondary purpose.” When the primary purpose is human flourishing, you balance the positive impacts (e.g. warm homes) with the negatives (e.g. carbon emissions or pollution) when deciding whether an action is worth pursuing. On the other hand, if minimizing impact is your primary, no impact becomes the ideal, and no action will be permitted.

Everyone has bought into anti-impact as an ideal when it should be that we want anti-negative impacts for humans. So I am a humanist who cares about my environment.