The Corner

The Green Double-Cross Begins

I have a very basic axiom about environmentalists and energy; call it “Hayward’s First Law of Green Thermodynamics,” and it goes as follows: There is no source of energy, no matter how clean, that left-environmentalists won’t oppose if it becomes practical to scale up. It is now forgotten that nearly 50 years ago, the famous Port Huron Statement that Tom Hayden co-wrote to launch the New Left endorsed nuclear power. Then he met Jane Fonda and we know the rest of that story. Environmentalist opposition to wind power, now that it is expanding (thanks to huge subsidies), is well known, and not just where Kennedys live. Earlier this week in the Washington Examiner I warned the natural-gas industry against entering a “bootleggers and Baptists” coalition with greens to promote more natural gas use:

The green-gas coalition is another example of the short-sightedness of industry. Climate orthodoxy requires about a 50 percent reduction in natural gas use if its ambitious target for the year 2050 is to be met. Natural gas interests are likely to find that in the fullness of time they will become the next target of environmentalist opposition once coal is interred next to nuclear power. The “bridge” of natural gas will turn out to be a drawbridge, which environmental opposition will seek to draw up and close off, strangling or stranding many investments. 

Well, I didn’t even have to wait 48 hours for this prediction to start coming true. Behold this headline from yesterday’s Politico: “Greens Sour on Natural Gas.” The copy could have come straight from my prediction:

Whatever happened to the romance between the environmental lobby and natural gas? After years of basking in a green glow as the cleanest fossil fuel and a favorite short-term choice to replace cheap-but-dirty coal, gas now finds itself under attack from environmentalists, filmmakers and congressional Democrats — and even from some scientists who raise doubts about whether its total emissions are as climate-friendly as commonly believed. Case in point: the Sierra Club, whose former executive director, Carl Pope, has spoken warmly in recent years about gas as an alternative to coal in power plants. Now, the group is considering calling for natural gas to be phased out by 2050 — about 20 years after it wants coal eliminated.

QED, as the mathematicians say. Up next: solar power, probably. It will require too much mining of rare minerals to scale up.

Steven F. Hayward — Stephen F. Hayward is a senior resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of a two-volume political history, The Age of Reagan.

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