It was a rare moment of honesty from an environmental activist: “It is not easy to talk about the kind of massive changes that we need to make; about how we think, about what we eat, where it comes from, how we entertain ourselves, what kind of holidays we take,” said Kumi Naidoo, former executive director of Greenpeace International. “All of these things actually are very painful to talk about.”
Naidoo, who led Greenpeace for six years before departing late last year, made these remarks in mid-February at a climate-change forum in Germany. He was answering the question of an Icelandic official, who wanted to know why governments aren’t doing more to crack down on “meat consumption,” and other economic excesses that produce greenhouse gases. “We have to change the way we consume,” the official concluded at the end of her question.
On the same panel, three seats across from Naidoo, sat U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). As the former Greenpeace activist wrapped up his answer, the American lawmaker saw his climate and energy talking points going up in flames, and tried to get back on message.
Then he offered an example: “If you trade in your Mercedes for a Tesla, your quality of life just went up.”
Moments later, a German member of the panel came to the senator’s aid, but it didn’t help. “It’s really not true that you have to suffer for changing lifestyle and habits,” he said. “Populations are willing to do a lot of things. In Germany now, on average the German household is paying 30 percent more for energy than the neighboring countries, and 60 percent more than American households,” he continued. “We’re doing this because we believe in the change.”
This whole exchange, lasting roughly five minutes, shows everything that’s wrong with the environmental left in America. The activists know very well that scrapping our existing energy system and starting over with wind turbines, solar panels, battery storage and electric cars would be hugely expensive. For example, in just one state – New York – analysts with Bloomberg New Energy Finance found it would cost more than $380 billion. On top of that, the energy sources favored by the activists cannot support the way we live today. Currently, those sources provide a small fraction of the nation’s energy, because they are expensive and their output depends on highly variable weather conditions.
Instead of pushing for these technologies to get cheaper and more reliable, until they actually can support our way of life, environmental campaigners want governments to rush them into the marketplace before they’re ready. Through a combination of command-and-control regulations, subsidies and taxes, the activists would use the force of government to impose the “massive” and “painful” changes sought by Greenpeace and other environmental groups.
Except for the occasional slip, the activists never come clean about their real agenda. Instead, they turn to allies in Congress, like Whitehouse and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who downplay the costs and insist a spending spree on expensive new energy sources won’t hurt the economy, job growth or the household budgets of working families. This is critical for the activists and their standard-bearers on Capitol Hill, because the public simply does not share their alarmist views on the environment. Voters don’t see a crisis that demands massive changes and painful costs, so the activists pretend their energy and climate plans will hardly cost a thing. That’s where glib comments about trading in a Mercedes Benz for a Tesla come from.
For the record, the electric Tesla Model S has a starting price of more than $70,000. That’s much more than most Americans can afford, even with a $7,500 subsidy from the federal government. According to Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds, Americans are currently willing to spend $34,000 on a new car and $18,000 for a used vehicle on average. To suggest they should spend tens of thousands of dollars more on a Tesla doesn’t make any sense at all.
But it makes perfect sense to the people who finance environmental activist groups. They are the heirs of family fortunes, like the Rockefellers, and billionaire Democratic donors, like Tom Steyer. They have more money than they’ll ever need, can afford any kind of car they want, and have no reason to worry about higher energy bills. Whatever happens to working families, the donor class won’t feel any pain, and that’s all the activists really care about.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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