Politics & Policy

The Left’s Cynicism Overshadows Its Environmentalism

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a Capitol Hill press conference, March 1, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
They advocate steep taxes, then complain about high gas prices.

A recent letter sent to President Trump says a great deal about how cynical energy and environmental policy has become in the United States. An excerpt: “The impact of rising fuel prices on our economy and on family budgets is significant and widespread.”

Those words of concern about the price of gas are from a letter co-signed by Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer. Ironically, Senator Schumer (D., N.Y.) has long supported increasing the price of gas as part of a policy to reduce CO2 emissions to fight climate change.

So too have the three others who signed the letter. Senator Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) proposed a “cap-and-dividend” bill that would have increased gas taxes by up to 21 cents per gallon. The letter was also signed by Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.), whose name adorns the most aggressive climate legislation of the last decade, a bill that would have increased gas prices by up to 63 cents per gallon, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The senators’ letter laments the rise in oil prices as summer approaches, calling on the president to jawbone Saudi Arabia to cut prices and “put pressure on oil exporting nations.” Ironically, the United States may soon become the world’s leading oil-exporting nation.

Demanding that the president cut gas prices so families can use more fossil fuels demonstrates how cynically the Left uses environmental policy. The explicit goal of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems is to increase the price of gasoline, home heating, and electricity, providing an incentive for consumers to use less. Schumer and the others who signed the letter all support these policies, which would, in their words, have a significant impact “on our economy and family budgets.”

In an effort to escape the obvious hypocrisy of their position, the four complain that increased expenditures on gas would go “to the OPEC cartel rather than the U.S. Treasury.” This is revealing. If the Left supports higher energy prices only when the money goes to government, they don’t really care about reducing CO2 emissions — they just want to increase taxes.

Today, the goal of attacking President Trump is far more important than any environmental goal. When it is politically useful to attack the president on climate change, they accuse him of destroying the planet. When the better line of attack is to lament the impact of high gas prices on families, some on the left kick aside their purported environmental principles in favor of politics.

This kind of environmental hypocrisy is not limited to the American Left. North of the border, the left-wing government of Ontario has taken this brand of hypocrisy to the next level. After imposing a carbon tax, the government prohibited utilities from listing the new tax separately on people’s bills.

Again, the purpose of a carbon tax is to send a price signal. Hiding that price signal from consumers may be good politics — so they can blame others for high utility costs — but it completely undermines the purpose of the carbon tax. Politicians want to bask in the glow of environmental righteousness conferred by environmental groups who praise their commitment to saving the planet. They just don’t want to pay a political price for it.

It gets worse. When high energy prices became politically unpopular, the Ontario government borrowed money to subsidize the reduction in energy prices. Politicians increased energy prices and then used taxpayer money to cut the energy prices they had raised.

It is increasingly clear that the Left’s commitment to the environment is more a matter of politics than a sincere commitment to environmental stewardship. The government-heavy 1970s approach to environmental stewardship is unworkable and outdated. That insincere use of the environment by some of the Left makes conservatives reluctant to talk about the issue, fearing it is little more than a political weapon. But we should not let the Left’s political cynicism destroy our sincere love of nature.

The goal of attacking President Trump is far more important than any environmental goal.

Senate Democrats complaining about high gas prices even as they push gas prices higher is just the latest manifestation of the Left’s disingenuous environmentalism. It provides, however, an opportunity to contrast that cynicism with an honest conservative stewardship ethic that is both sincere and modern.

While the Left looks to force Americans to change our lifestyle, conservatives know the combination of technology and personal incentives are a powerful tool to use fewer resources even as we live better. The evidence is everywhere.

Although the Prius has become a symbol of environmental consciousness, it was Toyota’s recognition that people with disposable income would pay more for a fuel-efficient car that led to its creation. Subsidies came along later, but the market led the way.

Now the technology to help families do more with less is literally in the palm of our hand. Thermostats that connect to our phones and use artificial intelligence, like Nest, help keep our homes comfortable with less energy. Technologies that connect to our phones allow us to track our use of water (such as Buoy) and electricity (such as the Sense monitor I have in my home) and find ways to economize and conserve. Personal incentives, not government mandates, are driving environmental innovation.

Conservatives, who thrive in rural — and natural — America, have an opportunity to offer a 21st-century approach to protecting the environment. This approach must reflect a commitment to technology that sees consumer knowledge and empowerment, not restrictions, as the key to environmental stewardship.

Todd Myers — Todd Myers is the environmental director of the Washington Policy Center in Seattle.

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